I have created a text file every year since 2010 that lists every game I played that year and the order in which I enjoyed them. Now that my blog is operational and I started the #GamesOfTheYear tag in 2017 I felt it was time to look back at those text files and record them here for posterity.
I am going to attempt to not write too much about each game because otherwise it will take me weeks if not months to transcribe all of these text files. My goal is to write a simple one or two line description of the game and what I think I felt about it back when it was first played.
1. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (Wii U and 3DS)
If you have followed me on any social media platform over the last five years you will have undoubtedly seen me rave about my love for the Monster Hunter franchise. That obsession started in March of 2013 when Elsie suggested that I give Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate a try. I purchased it for the Wii U and then immediately bought the Nintendo 3DS version so I could continue playing MH3U while I was away from my TV.
I put hundreds of hours into Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate which places it in rarefied air. There are only a handful of games that have spurred that sort of devotion from me and every single Monster Hunter game released after MH3U has managed to replicate that.
Quite simply, this is one of my favourite video games of all time.
2. Pokémon Y
It seems like it is a tradition with these games of the year articles that I must forget playing the Pokémon game from that year.
I am not joking when I say I have little memory of playing Pokémon Y. I do remember enjoying it much more than the previous generations (Pokémon Black & White 1 & 2) but I thought Pokemon Y was very much a paint-by-numbers Pokémon game. The transition to 3D graphics was interesting (and some would say long overdue) but I do not know why I rated this my number two game of 2013.
3. Monster Hunter 4
If you needed more evidence as to how much I fell in love with Monster Hunter in 2013 allow me to present my third favourite game, Monster Hunter 4, which was never released outside of Japan. I imported it as well as a Japanese 3DS because the console is region locked. Monster Hunter 4 didn't come out in North America until 2015 under the title of Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate and, spoiler alert, it was one of my favourite games of that year too.
4. StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm
It took three years but Blizzard finally released the second episode of the StarCraft II trilogy and StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm was worth the wait. It continued the very story driven mission structure that I loved from the first episode but spiced up the gameplay with upgrade trees that let you customize your units.
In typical Blizzard fashion the upgrades were really well designed and didn't overpower what the core purpose of the units were. The upgrades gave the units a little flair that allowed you to create new strategies while not causing your previous strategies to become obsolete. I can only imagine how much playtesting Blizzard did before they landed on the upgrades that shipped with the game.
5. Fire Emblem Awakening
Fire Emblem Awakening was my first game in the Fire Emblem series and it proved to be a perfect entry point. The story was engaging, the writing and voice acting were top notch and the turn-based tactical combat system was amazing. I had heard a lot of good things about Fire Emblem but I was not prepared for how much depth the combat would have.
The game has a couple of dozens of classes each with their own unique abilities. On top of that your characters can either "upgrade" their class when they get to a certain experience level or switch to another class while still retaining the powers of the original. The number of combinations and the potential strategies that arise from this are mind boggling. In combat you also have the ability to pair units together to fight as a team. Not only does this improve their combat effectiveness but it also increases their relationship status. This leads to new abilities and can even result in your characters getting married and having children who inherit the abilities of their parents. The relationship system made me bring certain characters into battle just because I wanted to see how their relationship would grow.
If you are a fan of turn-based tactics I would imagine that you would be enamored with this game.
6. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is marketed as a sequel/successor to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past but I see as more of a modern remake. The games are more similar than they are different and many of those differences are essentially "quality of life" improvements that have naturally occurred in these types of games in the over two decades since A Link to the Past was released.
A Link Between Worlds is still an absolutely fantastic game. I think it is a game that everyone should play and is a worthy sequel/successor/remake to A Link to the Past. It keeps the soul of A Link to the Past alive (a soul that has made it one of the greatest video game in history) while removing a lot of the rough edges that modern gamers may not be able to stomach.
If I had to knock A Link Between Worlds for anything it would be for the new gameplay mechanic they added of being able to merge flat against a wall. The number of possible use cases for it seemed to be expended fairly quickly and became boring the longer the game went on.
7. Beyond: Two Souls
Heavy Rain was one my of favourite games of 2010 so I was super excited for Beyond: Two Souls, the next game from Quantic Dream.
As is customary with Quantic Dream games, Beyond: Two Souls started very strong. I was leery of the paranormal aspects of it but early on they were used mostly to explore the very human story centered around the main character, Jodie. Unfortunately, as is also customary with Quantic Dream games, the later half went completely off the rails.
By the end of the game you feel as if you're in some cheap Ghostbusters sequel where the land of the living is somehow merging with the land of the dead and obviously you are the only one who can stop it. The story never really builds up to this in a way that makes you care. Previous chapters would deal with very real emotional, psychological or physical problems that almost anyone could could either empathize with or relate to. But then suddenly the story takes a very hard science fiction twist and it does not feel earned.
The best chapters in Beyond: Two Souls are the ones that deal with problems grounded in reality. My favourite chapter is one where the main character is living on the streets in the dead of winter. Your goal is literally just to survive. You need to find food and shelter but this leads to some very poignant interactions with other homeless individuals who also have their own personal demons they are struggling with. The way all of this is explored is incredibly engaging and has some of the most gut wrenching scenes because they feel real.
While I don't think Beyond: Two Souls is a bad game I can understand how its schizophrenic story can turn off a number of people and that is why it is this far down on my list.
8. XCOM: Enemy Within
XCOM: Enemy Within is an expansion pack to one of my favourite games of 2012, XCOM: Enemy Unknown. When this expansion was announced I was beyond excited. They were adding genetic augmentation, cyborg soldiers, base defense missions, as well as a third-faction that would fight both XCOM and the aliens. It sounded like the perfect expansion. Then I started playing it.
XCOM: Enemy Within is not a horrible expansion by any means but two decisions really took a lot of the fun out of it for me personally.
First, they added a resource to the game which is used to either genetically augment your soldiers or turn them into cyborgs. Both of these things are very crucial to your success and is something that you want to do often. Unfortunately to gather this new resource you must do so before a certain timer expires. This will routinely force you to make poor decisions because you are so committed to getting that resource. I understand why the designers added this mechanic but I think it is a prime example of punishing the player instead giving them an incentive to behave differently. Lead with the carrot, not the stick.
Second, they greatly increased the difficulty of the early game while also decreasing the difficulty of the endgame. I beat the XCOM: Enemy Unknown on Classic Ironman but was having no luck getting through the first three months of XCOM: Enemy Within. I eventually memorized all the issues I was going to encounter and crafted a solution to getting past those three months at which point the game was basically over but I still had to go through the motions for the next 10-20 hours. I was hoping that I would be able to react more to what was happening but unfortunately it now seemed like there was a "correct" way to play the game which is not why I play XCOM.
9. Super Mario 3D World
Super Mario 3D World is a competent platformer but there was something about the level design that never really grabbed me. I found myself putting the game down and not really having any drive to pick it back up again.
I think the issue was that it was a 3D world that didn't really feel unique. It felt like very standard, cookie cutter 2D Mario levels extended into the third dimension which is quite different from the previous 3D Mario games like Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Sunshine. I would have a hard time imagining how those games could be represented in 2D while I can easily see how the levels of Super Mario 3D World would.
10. Saints Row IV
Saints Row IV is essentially Saints Row: The Third dialed to 11. That isn't a bad thing and I honestly thought I would have loved it but for some reason I was just not in the mood for that kind of game. I played a handful of hours before putting it down and then simply forgot to play it again.
11. Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V is so low on this list because I am not a fan of the more "realistic" approach they are taking with the series. I loved the arcadey gameplay of the previous generations but with GTA IV some of the things that were super fun (like running from the police) started to become tedious. Couple that with characters who are not interesting and difficult to relate to, you get a story that feels like a slog. The only real interesting character was Trevor because he was a complete sociopath so you had no idea what was going to happen next which felt like the GTA games of old.
12. Ni no Kuni
2013 was a relatively quiet year for JRPGs so I was very enthusiastic about the release of Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. A JRPG developed by Level-5 in collaboration with Studio Ghibli sounded like a match made in heaven.
After playing the first couple hours of the game it seemed like my faith was well placed. The story was engaging and the Ghibli art style was breathtaking. The combat was fairly simple but I chalked this up to being just the start of the game and assumed it would come into its own. Unfortunately, it only got worse.
Ni no Kuni has a real time combat system that is based heavily around your positioning. The A.I. of your teammates however is so poor that you constantly find yourself having to pause combat to ensure they are taking a sane action. This causes the combat to slow to a crawl and become very tedious. I also found that if I did not direct almost every single one of my teammates actions they would waste their mana in seconds and then resort to basic melee attacks which were essentially useless and typically put them in harm's way.
It got to the point where combat was so frustrating and dragging out for so long that I could not continue playing the game. I was hooked by the story but the thought of having to do through several hours of combat to get to the next plot point was too much and I quit.
13. FIFA 14
FIFA 14 is another entry in the FIFA series and there isn't much more to say beyond that. It is still really fun but it is exactly what you would expect from a FIFA game. I was looking for a soccer game to play and FIFA 14 perfectly filled that void.
14. Need for Speed Rivals
I only bought Need for Speed Rivals because I was desperate for games at the launch of the PlayStation 4. I suspect the reason why this isn't lower is because it didn't do anything particularly egregious. It was just so bland that my brain almost forgot about it.
15. Battlefield 4
I absolutely love the Battlefield series and Battlefield 4 is no exception. The reason it is so low on this list is that in the months after its release the game was riddled with so many bugs and glitches that it was almost unplayable. It wasn't until the spring of 2014 that I really started to enjoy the game and by then I had already made my list for 2013.
16. Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Animal Crossing: New Leaf is low on this list not because it was a bad game. Like Saints Row IV I was just not in the mood for this type of game when it came out. I put like a dozen hours into it but the Animal Crossing games really do demand a good portion of your time and I could just not give it that.
Also after Elsie stole my favourite resident how could I keep playing?
17. The Last of Us
The Last of Us is one of those universally applauded games that I absolutely hate.
The combat was atrocious. The poor aiming and controls seemed to have carried over from the Uncharted games. I would try to sneak around enemies only to have their eagle eyes somehow spot me. Then I would be forced to mow down wave after wave of enemies as their poor artificial intelligence lead them to the slaughter. I remember one section where I just stood in a stairwell and murdered the enemies as they came over the top of the stairs for about 10 minutes before I could actually move forward. The combat never felt entertaining. It was always something I dreaded.
The forced stealth sections were even worse than the forced combat. The poor controls made sneaking past the Clicker enemies very frustrating and did I mention that a lot of the Infected enemies have one hit kill moves? It is just such a strange combat system and I find it hard to believe that through months of playtesting none of these issues came up. Maybe I was playing on too high a difficulty and most people were playing on something lower so they could just experience the story.
That brings me to the second thing that was universally revered but didn't strike a chord with me, the story. To me the gameplay never felt like it resonated with the story. You would go from murdering dozens of people or fighting your way through Infected to cutscenes that didn't feel like they existed in the same world. At some points I thought that The Last of Us should have just been a movie instead of a video game. The story wasn't bad though and I was able to work my way through the moments of dissonance and get to the ending. That was where, in my opinion, the game fell completely apart because I could not believe the actions of most people. The game proceeded to then end on a cliffhanger with many unanswered questions which is one of the cardinal sins of storytelling for me.
We will see if The Last of Us stands the test of time but I would bet that a decade after its release a lot of the things that rubbed me the wrong way will stand out even more.
18. BioShock Infinite
You may be wondering how there could possibly be a game that I disliked more than The Last of Us so allow me to introduce you to the gigantic tire fire that is BioShock Infinite. It has the same problems as The Last of Us, poor combat and story, but it is actually impressive how shitty they are in BioShock Infinite.
There is essentially no variety in the weapons. The enemy A.I. is basically non-existent and most of the enemies boil down to bullet sponges that run straight at you. The Vigors (the equivalent of BioShock's Plasmid) are almost useless with the exception of one or two. The Sky-Line system that allows you to travel through the air is pointless because it just makes you an easy target. I found that combat almost never evolved over the course of the entire game and every combat situation I entered into would always play out the same.
So the combat is shit how about the story? It feels like it was written by an English major dropout who everyone on the team was afraid to say no to. Ken Levine had a hit with the original BioShock and parlayed that into a sequel where he was essentially a god that could not be challenged.
The story of BioShock Infinite is a time travel story based around a paradox and the end of the story is to just double down on that paradox without trying to explain anything. Your actions have no meaning and the game was essentially ended before it ever began. It still boggles my mind that they actually shipped that ending. I would love to know how many people working on the game questioned it. BioShock Infinite is the prime example of why I hate time travel stories because the writers always pull Deus Ex Machina moments out of their ass under the guise of "it's just another timeline".
Then there is the absolutely ham fisted way you confront the final boss in this game. Remember how in 2014 everyone jumped down Call of Duty's throat when they had their "Press F to Pay Respects" moment? That is literally how you defeat the final boss of BioShock Infinite. Read this great article by Robert Yang if you want to dive further into that stupidity.
I am happy that Ken Levine's ego killed Irrational Games and if there is a God we will hopefully be spared another Ken Levine game.#GamesOfTheYear