2018 was a year full of personal growth and new opportunities, but still not great for society. It’s very hard to come off a banger of a year like 2017, so it’s no surprise this year was slightly weird for games and not as impactful. Even with that, there was A LOT of video games released this year and here are some of my favorites. Like most years, there might be spoilers scattered throughout, so if you haven’t played through something I write about, be forewarned.
Best Old Game - Tokyo Xanadu eX+ (PS4)
I’d known about Tokyo Xanadu for a few years ever since it’d been announced for Japan. It had the look of something that had a similar style to Persona, while also being its own thing. While it came out earlier in 2017 for the Vita, knowing it was getting a PS4 release with most of the DLC made me hold off. It coming out in December made it so I missed out on picking it up then. A few months later I finally did, and I’m so glad because this is such a good game. From the writing, characters, storytelling, and gameplay left me feeling so happy in ways that other JRPGs of last year didn’t. It’s one of those games similar to Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE where I feel like I need to go out on every rooftop and yell at people to play this since everyone should play them. Action JRPGs can be strange to play at times, but I never had this issue playing this and all of the social bits were so much fun. Which, going back and playing through The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, you can really feel how Tokyo Xanadu is very similar to that series but in a modern setting, but it still works without feeling as if it’s the same. Play Tokyo Xanadu if you haven’t. Do it.
The Quiet Man Presents: Worst Game of 2018 - Final Fantasy XV Pocket Edition HD (PS4/XBO/Switch/PC)
Sometimes, I’m dumb. I somehow convinced myself the mobile version of Final Fantasy XV might fix some of that game’s problems with regards to combat and storytelling. Boy, was I wrong. The combat is much worse in terms of being an incredible slog to use. The story is a more streamlined version before Square Enix had to patch in more story to make it more sensible. They cut out a lot of the character moments. The artstyle has bad chibi art and the backgrounds are supremely bland. It’s a mess. This is an even worse version of a bad game, which is saying something. If you’ve played Final Fantasy XV previously, this will do nothing for you, and if you haven’t played it at all and are interested, just get the actual version. Don’t bother with this garbage.
Also The Quiet Man is bad, don’t play that either.
Best Anime Game - Takeshobo Quest ~Attack Pop Team Epic~ (Mobile)
The idea that the Pop Team Epic series would come up with a game that parodies the gacha-style formula makes total sense. While this certainly isn’t the best playing game and is similar to idle games at best, there’s so much of the comedy from Pop Team Epic stuffed within this package. There are good parodies of games themselves and excellent anime bumper parodies for ads from some surprising shows such as Persona 4 The Animation. It’s strange, wild, and funny which is pretty much Pop Team Epic in a nutshell.
A quick shoutout goes to the game that makes way too much money everyday, Granblue Fantasy and its Love Live! Sunshine!! collaboration which fit the style of the show with keeping in tone with the characters and utilizing the show’s original soundtrack in ways that absolutely work.
Best Arcade Archives Release - Money Puzzle Exchanger (PS4/XBO/Switch)
I love Money Puzzle/Idol Exchanger. It’s an incredibly fun puzzle game from the Neo Geo with some wonky English at times, but is such a joy. I honestly never thought we’d get an Arcade Archives release of this game. There hadn’t been really any FACE releases from their Neo Geo catalogue yet and this game had some issues with it being seen as a ripoff of the Magical Drop series, but here we are. It’s out and available for everyone to enjoy and play for not a whole lot of money. While this doesn’t have the story mode from the home console release, it’s the same pure gameplay that made me first enjoy the game in the first place.
Best Moment - Anytime you interact with the P3 Cast in Persona 3 Dancing Moon Night (PS4/Vita)
It’s been a long time since most of the cast of Persona 3 has been back together in their own game. Seeing them in a higher graphical fidelity, whether it’s in Japanese or English, just warmed my heart. It really flames the fire of wanting a remake of Persona 3 and gave me the push to replay that game. Every time I got to see those characters just have simple conversations with each other, unveil weird quirks about their characters, and have new interactions with each other was just amazing. It was the best bits of pure happiness I got to experience in games all year. Even with that game having some issues with a lack of story mode and being handcuffed to the poor Persona 5 dancing game so it could be released, I’m so glad I got to see these characters in a new light after so long.
Best Jared and AL Multiplayer Game - Blazblue Cross Tag Battle (PS4/XBO/Switch/PC)
I’ll get into this game later, but this game was such a blast to play online together with SAC OVA and Jared and AL host Anne Ladyem as we lived and died by the random. The ways Blazblue Cross Tag Battle makes the mechanics of fighting a bit more streamlined makes you feel like you can be viable in a competitive sense, which made our fights have that incredibly tense atmosphere.
Best Surprise - Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna The Golden Country (Switch)
I really didn’t expect this. I sure did play Xenoblade Chronicles 2 last year. It was...fine? Not bad. Just had some problems for me. I certainly knew that the game was going to get a story expansion, but really didn’t think much of it. It wasn’t until we did a SAC OVA episode on the game where AL explained the story to me that I began to think, “maybe I should check this out.” I’m so glad I did. This is what the base game should’ve been, from the new quality of life upgrades to better storytelling and writing. Getting rid of the god awful gacha mechanics is also an incredible boost. This game really got me to care about some of the characters in the base game that I absolutely wasn’t expecting to and also placed some of them in a new light. Everything about the story also works as a supplement to the original game as a prequel. I wouldn’t have been surprised to come away from this and think “oh this was alright and a little better than I anticipated,” but to come away from it astonished in how much I liked it is truly surprising.
10: Dragon Ball FighterZ (PS4/XBO/Switch/PC)
Oh my god they made a really good Dragon Ball game. Finally. There have been numerous games in the franchise over the past 30 years and some have been okay, but a lot have been poor. Giving the keys to Arc System Works who have done some incredible things lately with games in terms of visuals with their work on Guilty Gear Xrd have applied that formula here and made a game that evokes the feeling of what made Dragon Ball fun to begin with when I was 10. The fighting is really good and the visual fidelity really brings the character designs and art to life. Adding in certain fan service of classic moments from over the course of the series is a cherry on top. That said, the story mode is charming at first but turns into a slog as it progresses. Add in the ridiculousness of Toei yanking the game from 2019 fighting game tournaments after this being the highest viewed game at EVO in 2018 with one of the craziest matches in the tournaments history isn’t great. That’s not necessarily attached to the game, but should be addressed. For the game itself, Dragon Ball FigherZ is what 10 year old me has always wanted from a Dragon Ball game and I’m so glad it exists.
9: Persona 3 Dancing Moon Night (PS4/Vita)
Persona 3 Dancing Moon Night brings back the wonderful cast of characters from Persona 3 with a great soundtrack selection that is incredibly fun to play. The new remixes are a delight to listen to, seeing these characters dance around with each other in their own ways is a joy, and as mentioned previously, watching them interact with each other is the best. There are certainly some improvements made on the Dancing idea from Persona 4 Dancing All Night such as some minor gameplay changes and creating specific music videos for the cast that are just incredible. Yet, if there’s anything holding this game back it’s the lack of a story mode, which was one of the key aspects to Persona 4 Dancing All Night. While seeing the characters have chats with each other in the social mode is fun, it’s not the same as it would be if we could have had a fun story mode to go along with it. They also should’ve let Koromaru dance. He’s a good boy and would’ve been a good dancer. And included FEMC.
8: GRIS (Switch/PC)
GRIS is an absolutely gorgeous game—perhaps the best looking game I’ve ever seen. This is what we should be talking about when people discuss games as art. From the animation to the art style, everything about this is just a beautifully done piece of art. The beginning of the game left me speechless with its animation and art, and that lasted all the way through the end. The story as well is very intriguing with it not including any text, but it still being transparent enough to understand the concepts and themes. The gameplay is a pretty standard puzzle platformer that’s inoffensive in that it does nothing really new or is bad, but it’s really not the point of the game. The art is the star of the game here and absolutely worth it.
7: Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth - Hacker’s Memory (PS4/Vita)
The first Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth was a big surprise in terms of being a licensed game and a fun to play JRPG. The sequel staying in the same story by being a side-story that happens alongside the original game made me a little bit skeptical. That skepticism quickly went away when it became apparent this has better storytelling than the first game. While most of the game is very similar in terms of mechanics and reusing the same world and assets, the writing was the true shining aspect as it became better than anticipated. It also helps that the characters here are slightly better as well which holds up the story too and adds in some familiar faces from the first game along with the protagonist briefly showing up at times, too. These are still similar to Persona games in terms of mechanics and while nothing is really new here, it still works and isn’t worse two years later. I really hope they make a third game in this series, with a new setting and story as it’s a good formula that I’ve really enjoyed.
6: The MISSING: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories (PS4/XBO/Switch/PC)
I was going to check out the latest game from SWERY no matter what, but I never expected it to end the way I did. To dive into why this game works so well with its story goes deep into end game spoilers that I don’t want to necessarily ruin for people, but it was truly astonishing and left me shocked. The MISSING is another puzzle platformer with more of a gorey and body horror mechanic where you have to mutilate yourself in order to get through puzzles, which is core to the story and twist as well. This also has some incredible text message exchanges which give a lot of the backstory between JJ and other people she knows that helps to let you understand where the game is going to go. The writing in those are so well done and really give a voice and characterization to a lot of people you don’t meet within the game itself. There’s also some really well done fake stickers as well. The MISSING is a game that’s important to play not only with our current culture and society, but with the message it presents.
5: Blazblue Cross Tag Battle (PS4/XBO/Switch/PC)
Combining characters from various fighting games and 3D animated shows such as Blazblue, Under Night In-Birth, Persona 4 Arena, and RWBY seems like it should be hard to take those titles that had games and combine their systems and balance them to work. Somehow, Arc System Works made it work and made it so much fun. There’s an accessibility to this game that isn’t what you normally get from fighting games, especially from one such as this. Each series feels different enough between the four and even got AL and I to seek out Under Night In-Birth to play because we enjoyed those characters. The fighting was so much fun to play and enjoyable that I usually don’t get from fighting games. This also had the bonus of reuniting the Persona 4 cast along with the English cast that was so enjoyable to see. Plus, you can reunite the best tag team of 2018, Team T.O.B.
4: Donut County (PS4/XBO/PC/Mobile)
It’s easy to just pigeon hole Donut County as “reverse Katamari”, but even with that, it’s a very fun experience that is easy to play in bite-sized increments. Sucking up everything into a ever-growing hole is a simple concept, but really fun to use and play. Even with the good gameplay, the writing within the game is so, so good. The characters feel like people you would encounter in today’s society without feeling too much like it leans into internet humor. There are also intriguing changes they make to the mechanics for the end game and final boss that work within the confines of the game. The music is also very good to listen to and work in service with the game. Perhaps the best parts of the writing is the flavor text on the items you collect and bring down into your hole as they are all very good and full of humor. This is also a good experience wherever you play it, whether that’s on console or mobile.
3: Yakuza 6: The Song of Life (PS4)
The final chapter of Kazuma Kiryu’s story has come. With that being the central point of this game, it’s not necessarily my favorite part. It’s the quiet moments of Yakuza 6 that really shine. The small seafaring town of Onomichi that is really pleasant. It’s such a contrast to the busyness and somewhat anxiety inducing tightness of Kamurocho. It’s calm, peaceful, and a different style of living. This is a place where people are going to make it on their own and don’t need the excesses of the city to be happy. There’s a touching bar substory where you make friends with various patrons and just have drinks while they talk about their stories or problems. There’s a lot crammed into this game that on paper shouldn’t work because so much of it is just different, but it all does. You can hunt fish in FPS style minigame, manage a baseball team with some hitting mechanics, fight against modern day New Japan Pro Wrestling wrestlers in a reverse tower defense minigame, and of course beat a ton of people up. Of course there’s the main story where sometimes Kiryu has to carry around a baby (and not toss it in the ocean) while hanging out with Beat Takeshi as he eats ice cream. Yakuza 6 is a lot, but it’s such a fun and enjoyable package that I couldn’t wait to come back in and play before finishing it. While the ending might not be perfect, it still feels like something the character of Kiryu would do given everything else that has happened in the series.
2: Florence (Mobile)
For most of us, we’ve all had relationships begin with the wondrous of highs and end with the worst of lows. Florence is somehow able to recreate that experience on phones in a way that it wouldn’t be able to elsewhere. Everything about this short story driven experience resonated with me throughout the entire year as it was incredibly emotional and impactful. The simple mechanics of piecing things together is a clever way to move the story forward as it becomes integral to how the relationship falls apart and forces the player to divorce yourself from those mechanics in order for you to let go of the relationship and ultimately move on. You’re not going to get a better story or narrative experience in games this year. It’s especially hard on phones to have this type of experience because mobile games are made with the intention that you’ll hop in and out whenever. Yet here was a game that I was just glued to my phone for the hour or so that it took to play. You absolutely could play it by just doing a chapter at a time, but it also works at once too to bring forth a memorable story.
1: Hitman 2 (PS4/XBO/PC)
They made more Hitman. That’s pretty much all you need to say for me to be hooked back in. Hitman (2016) was such a fun game to play and really made this series click for me for the first time. After everything that happened with Square Enix and iO, it was worrying that we might not get a sequel at all. Two years later, we have the sequel, and it’s just as good. There aren’t many changes to the original formula here, aside from things like mirrors working properly and tall grass to hide in, but it still feels just as good as the first game. Everything has been retained from the first game from the mechanics, to the surprisingly well-done writing and humor that permeates throughout the game. While there are some aspects that were hit with the problems iO faced such as cutscenes not being fully animated—which isn’t a bad thing, play some more visual novels you cowards—it never degrades from the experience and the story itself has some fun twists and turns including a good cliffhanger if we ever get a third game. There is also a way to import all the levels from the first game into Hitman 2 (2018) which gives you a complete package of fantastic levels to run around in. I’m glad this series continues to be an absolute blast to play and probably the best gameplay that I experienced this year. I haven’t been able to go through and max out my mastery on all the new levels, but I am eager to do that at some point. I mean what other game this year allows you to dress up as Florida Man?