Games of the Year Picks for 2014 and My Year of Gaming

Despite the naysayers of the world… The year 2014 has been a vibrant year in video games.

 

To begin… Most of this wouldn’t have been possible without the support of a much needed career change, a lovely fiancée who has been supportive of my video gaming hobby, and friends who have been fantastic springboards for academic discussions of video games as a medium & subculture of modern society. To my beloved and my video gaming friends… I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

 

Never would I have expected to physically expand my video game library as I have in years with how my life was going before. I have had moments where I have wanted to pick up some unicorn games of the modern era (PS3 or Xbox 360), but in the past would have had to say “Welp… I can’t buy that… I’m just going to have to let it go to the wayside.” Being able to feed the inner video game librarian in me has been nothing short of a wonder and pleasure! Before I go further into that tangent… I want to break down my picks for video games of the 2014 year. The breakdown will be over each system and the breakdown will be for PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, 3DS, and PlayStation Vita. There are some games that may get nominated that are technically multi-platform, in which I would assume that the game is just as grand on other platforms, I just make a specific mention as that was the platform I played on. Fair warning, some platforms may have large write-ups and some may not because the experience doesn’t lend itself to words well. All in all, these are games that I have picked on personal criteria from my own enjoyment and clocking at minimal more than 5 – 10 hours. I had locked in my choices as of December 2, 2014. With that said and in mind… Let’s get to it!

 

[PlayStation 4]

It’s been an interesting year of ownership with the PS4, I was one of the few folks in my circle of friends who bought one on launch day. It was (of the new systems) the most powerful current home console due to a few hardware factors, but I have personally felt that it’s been a slightly weak year for the system with regards to video game releases for the platform. The few games I own or rented have been good generally. I am hoping Sony picks up the pace with releasing strong PlayStation brand content because I think it is a great way to play games. The Japanese game catalog has been a little slow on the uptake and the catalog in the west hasn’t seen many PS4 only releases. I love the PS4 overall, but I do wish its catalog of games was a bit stronger for 2014. From what the PlayStation Experience 2014 event has shown, it stands to be a pretty strong start for 2015.

 

1) Destiny

People may give me crap about this… but I genuinely enjoy Destiny for the solid shooting mechanics and how fun having good co-op partners can be. I can’t even begin to count how many nights I have had legitimate fun playing late night with folks who were quite gifted with banter. Hell, the best party I joined was with some guys out in California that whenever we wiped out on the Vault of Glass end-game raid would say “I’m Cornholio and I have TP in my bunghole!” in a polite and elegant manner was probably the best memory I have of the game. The guns and shooting feel are great… I can say I have gotten attached to my character (female Gunslinger class Hunter) as she is geared and spec’d out to do battle. It feels like a more tightly tuned version of Halo and Borderlands 2 mixed with MMO mechanics. Destiny isn’t without its flaws… The scope isn’t as grand as conceived. The story is weaker than the developer diaries. The story has been chopped up in ways that don’t make logical sense (read: The Reef Queen)… The game can get grind heavy as well.

 

Honestly, it almost hearkens to my days of playing Phantasy Star Online (the original Dreamcast release) late night with good people and chasing the excitement of grinding through dungeons for better weapons. This holiday has the new expansion “The Dark Below” and promises new content. Combine that with some of the new changes (like a cut-down on some of the tedious grinding), some of us will probably be back trying to find ourselves back in the swing of grinding for weapons and gear. I love Destiny personally on the PS4 as it feels very comfortable to me playing with the DualShock 4 controller. I will recommend that you play with friends and if you’re short on friends… hit up sites like DestinyLFG.com and party up with some random helpful folks out in the community!

 

Destiny is also available on Xbox One, PS3, and Xbox 360 on disc or as a digital download. The PS4 version supports Remote Play via the PlayStation Vita and the Sony Xperia phones.

 

2) Samurai Warriors 4 (Japanese title: Sengoku Musou 4/戦国無双4)

Warriors games haven’t had the best reputation in the past… Personally, I blame the sloppy era of Warriors games (ahem, Dynasty Warriors 6, ahem). However, games like Dynasty Warriors 8 Xtreme Legends Complete Edition and Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate finally have turned the tide with very solid mechanics, pretty visuals and fantastic encyclopedia features. Samurai Warriors 4 is one hell of a release, you have a standard campaign mode, free mode, map creation, and a Chronicles mode (think a role-playing journey through Sengoku Era Japan with you pledging allegiance to one of the shogunates). The craziest part is that the character creation editor in Chronicles mode is even more in-depth than some western games! I quote my friend Tonberry: “Holy shit, there’s more customization features in this game than The Sims 4! WTF, how is EA not up on this?!” For me, the Warriors games (specifically Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors) are fun interactive mediums that retell history in their own way. The mechanics in Samurai Warriors 4 are certainly solid and brings a lot to the table. On first glance, it may appear that it’s a overly simple hack and slash type of game… but once you invest time into Samurai Warriors and drink in the history of the turbulent Sengoku Era… The game really shines. I would say that if you love action games and appreciate Asian history, this is one game not to be missed.

 

Samurai Warriors 4 is also available on PS3 and PlayStation Vita. Samurai Warriors also supports Cross Saves between the Vita and PS4 versions allowing you to play the game on either platform and update your save file accordingly. There is also a PS4 Special Anime Pack available which includes a bonus costume code and has an anime DVD that provides the background of the game’s setting.

 

3) Oneechanbara Z2 Chaos/お姉チャンバラ Z2 ~カオス~ (Japanese region import game)

This is probably the oddball exceptional pick of the PS4 games, mostly because I think it has a reputation of a B-list game. The Japanese publication Famitsu gave this game a review score of 78% and the Amazon.co.jp store reviews have it sitting at 3/5 stars (60%). For me… I love the frantic action, the fan service (the maid costumes in particular), and the hilariously corny dialogue. The best analog I can provide that this game is like would be if you put Devil May Cry, Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus, and Shawn of the Dead into a blender… this video game would be the ultimate result. Yes, the game isn’t the best crafted thing… Sure, it’s got some proof reading issues (like the squad’s commanding officer being spelled “Annna” in the 4koma-style story dialogue moments, yet being spelled as “Anna” every other occasion). True, you can beat the game within 6 hours… but the fun factor for me is replaying missions for additional cash to buy more weapons, combo skills, and costume pieces for ridiculous fun while mastering the combat and mechanics. I admit it is a guilty pleasure being able to go into a killing frenzy with Saki dressed in a maid costume with a katana slashing up the undead is oddly fun while appealing to my love of maid-cosplay… All in all, it’s a damn fun game and it was well worth picking it up from Nippon Yasan for about $55 USD on sale (when it’s normally almost $68 USD normally from most import shops).

 

If this game does ever get localized here by D3 Publishing’s US office… More than likely it will be under the name “Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad 3” (note, “Oneechanbara” was mistranslated to “Onechanbara” for the English market). I personally think it would probably do much better with a rebranding to something along the line of “Sword Sisters” since that is what the term “Oneechanbara” (お姉チャンバラ) is a portmanteau/play on phrases of onee-chan (お姉ちゃん) meaning “big sister” and chanbara (チャンバラ) meaning sword fighting (think old fashioned samurai sword fighting movies) per Wikipedia.

 

Oneechanbara Z2 Chaos is only available on PS4 as a Japanese region game as a physical disc (5818 yen, approx. $49 USD on Amazon Japan) or as a digital download from the Japanese region PlayStation store (6799 Yen, approx $57 USD). There is no word on a western release.

 

[Xbox One]

I will confess… When I received my Xbox One for Christmas 2013, I was a mixed ball of emotions. On one end, I LOVED the gift because I wanted to own one of each new console and I was finally able to realize my wish. On the other hand, I was also thinking “I don’t play many Western developed games since I am more of the mindset that I want odd/unique Japanese games primarily” and I figured the new Kinect was just another gimmick of modern day motion gaming or a poor excuse of lazy home automation. Overall… after almost 1 year of ownership, I love my Xbox One. It’s been a grand year for the system and I can say that the Kinect is oddly fun for a peripheral. The games on it have been generally fun with some unique games. I do quite like it’s catalog and for the gamer craving the “new” console experience… Phil Spencer taking over for Don Mattrick’s stupidity has really changed the system from being a system only known for Call of Duty, sports, and TV to one providing very rich video game experiences. The current promotion by Microsoft for the 2014 Christmas Holiday of selling the non-Kinect bundles at $350 is definitely a good way to get in on the cheap. I will advise that the Kinect while it may seem like a gimmick is definitely one of the best add-ons to pick up. I wasn’t much of a fan of it in concept, since the Xbox 360 Kinect was alright at best, the new Kinect for Xbox One is a fantastic piece of kit. I will say that the direction Phil Spencer is taking it is almost akin to a Dreamcast v3 and I mean that in the best way possible.

 

1) Dragon Age: Inquisition

For the record… I oddly have a hit-or-miss opinion of western RPG’s. Dragon Age: Inquisition has been one of my favorite games for my Xbox One. The action is intense and the dialogue is just a charming. While it is perfectly playable for those who don’t have much background on Dragon Age as a series… It definitely has much more impact should you have played the previous games. (Read: The Dragon Age Keep can be problematic for players of all platforms as my friend Psyche and his gal Tonberry have found that they can’t sync their Keep data to their PS4 for some weird reason.) The party banter I think is what really makes the game feel organic… Especially Dorian’s banter, that’s probably some of the most golden entertainment I have had in a long while. There are some downer points such as some of the quests can break to the point of being incompletable, some of the side quests don’t add anything substantial, or other things like the banter not firing off every 10 minutes… but all in all I enjoy the level of craft that Bioware as a team put into the story. (The problems are being patched out in due time, per Bioware)

 

Dragon Age: Inquisition is also available on PS4, PS3, Xbox 360, and PC. The game is available in Standard Edition and the Deluxe Editions. If you are on Xbox One and have the EA Access pass, you instantly get a 10% off of the Xbox Store prices for the digital download and can even try the game for 6 hours.

 

2) Forza Horizon 2

Pure. Unadulterated. Automotive. Pornography. Those are the words that sum up Forza Horizon 2. Do you love cars? Do you love having almost no boundaries to drive in a proverbial playground of sorts? Do you love challenges that are almost as goofy as an episode of Top Gear? Forza Horizon 2 is probably one of the most entertaining racing games I have played this year from that. The vast scope of road to drive around (Italy and France), combined with events varying from technical circuit style races to off-road challenges, and just beauty of the cars depicted in the game is supremely staggering. Some may decry the game running at 30 frames per second, but honestly… It’s not as critical a situation as say Forza Motorsport 5 where frame rate may be of more critical importance. The immersion of in-cockpit driving is quite good… and Playground Games did a great job there. The volume controls in the sound options allow the users to control sound of the engine, exhaust, tires, and in-game music… A small touch, but appreciated for the days I want to roll slow and relax to music while taking in the breathtaking scenery or really taking in the sound of a car’s exhaust note and engine roar. The game is supremely massive if you’re a completionist, combined with the fact that Turn 10 & Playground Games are bringing out more cars for the Season Pass content… There’s plenty to do at the Horizon Festival.

 

Forza Horizon 2 is also available on Xbox 360, however I would advise you to avoid it because it isn’t in any way the same as the Xbox One version. Forza Horizon 2 has a VIP Pass and a Season Pass available which add bonus cars to your game in addition to some other perks. The VIP Pass and Season Pass are NOT available on the Xbox 360 version of the game. There is also a brand new “Storm Island” expansion pack that adds 6 savage off-road cars, a new location (“Isla Tempesta” as the narrator calls it), and a whole host of new events for the price of $19.99. If you’re a VIP Pass holder, the price for Storm Island drops to $9.99.

 

3) Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

I know I mentioned that Phil Spencer of Xbox was turning the reputation of the Xbox One around to give it more notoriety beyond Call of Duty… but Microsoft does have an exclusivity agreement with them to give Xbox gamers access to Call of Duty content (map packs, additional guns, etc) earlier than PlayStation and PC platforms. While I’m a big sucker for RPG’s, action games, and story driven games… Call of Duty is my yearly “action movie” indulgence. I’m by no means a competitive FPS gamer… I do enjoy the intense action that Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare brings to the Call of Duty formula. Air dashing, mute charges, energy weapons, and futuristic warfare are definitely fun additions in a current environment where publishers have been in a trend of modern day themed shooter games. The campaign isn’t the most award winning thing, but Kevin Spacey and the cast definitely captured the feel of a summer blockbuster action movie. The multiplayer modes are fun and definitely entertaining… if you’re just playing for fun (and not trying to be hardcore MLG serious). If anything… I actually like the breath of fresh air they took with this year’s installment of the Call of Duty series.

 

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is also available on PS4, PS3, Xbox 360, and PC. There is a season pass available that gives access to the Atlas Gorge map as an immediate bonus, access to the 4 content packs to be released, and will later provide access to the EXO Zombies mode in the future.

 

[Nintendo Wii U]

The Wii U is the sleeping dragon of my current home gaming consoles. Sure, third party publishers like EA and Ubisoft have relegated the system to “chopped liver” status. However, Nintendo with their second-party developers and third party partners have proceeded to back and publish many great games! Sure, they had that “crazy” tablet controller. Sure, some have cried “OVERCLOCKED GameCube!”. But the irony is… it’s been a console with the most releases with very consistent frame rates, low reports of game breaking bugs, and I speculate it is due to how tight Nintendo’s quality assurance is. I think that the Wii U will only get better from here on out and with the teasers they issued at The Game Awards 2014 show… It’s a great time to be a Wii U owner. If anything, the Wii U is the darling of my household.

 

1) Hyrule Warriors (Japanese title: Zelda Musou/ゼルダ無双)

This game was by far the most wild card entry of the year… Back in January 2014, Nintendo had a financials meeting because the Wii U wasn’t selling like they were hoping. One of the points that Satoru Iwata said they would look into partnering up with certain partners on doing certain collaborations with beloved Nintendo characters. This got the entire world wondering what that could mean… Cell phone games? Emulators for smartphones? The sky was the limit! Nintendo kept mum until later in the spring of 2014… Then a reveal by Nintendo that they were working with Koei Tecmo for a Legend of Zelda collaboration that was titled Zelda Musou. The Japanese character font looked like the standard font for the Musou games (known as the Warriors series games such as Dynasty Warriors). The title at the time wasn’t announced for the western market, but a lot of fans had cried out “It’s a Zelda game! It has to come out to the west!” Then E3 came and Nintendo of America announced that Hyrule Warriors would be coming to the west.

 

I personally love the Warriors/Musou series games, but this one was like Christmas in the summer when I heard the announcement. A fusion of the Warriors games in the Legend of Zelda universe? Holy crap! This is a dream from an alternate universe. The action looked intense! However, you still had the doubters… “Ugh, Warriors games are bad!” then Nintendo threw yet another curve ball that Eiji Aonuma would be supervising the collaboration. Some doubters decided to give the series a chance, but some still had their doubts from the fact that it was still a Warriors series game.

 

Overall, I do love Hyrule Warriors. The game provides a fun spin-off of the series in general. The combat is frantic and takes a lot of cues from various other games. The Season Pass was in the spirit of Nintendo providing real value to the gamers. While I can understand it may not be every gamer’s cup of tea…  I will say that it is definitely something to be experienced. There is a lot of replay value and the Season Pass content for this game is definitely worth it with the additional missions and stories that it offers. For those getting into the Nintendo Amiibo figures, the Link figure unlocks the Spinner from Twilight Princess as a bonus weapon. The other figures will give out random daily bonuses (weapons, rupees, etc).

 

Hyrule Warriors is only available for Wii U. Nintendo/Koei Tecmo have a Season Pass available for the game at the price of $19.99. The season pass also gives the buyer access to a Shadow Link cosmetic skin as well too. The Link Amiibo figure to unlock the Twilight Princess Spinner weapon can be found at any toy or electronics store for $12.99.

 

2) Bayonetta 2

This was another bombshell I didn’t ever foresee coming to the Wii U. Hideki Kamiya was the mastermind behind Platinum Games’ title “The Wonderful 101”. Which while the game was beloved by those who appreciate how quirky and fun it was in a sea of shoddy third party games and solid first party releases. I know there was always the dedicated Platinum Games fans who hoped and prayed for a Bayonetta sequel… but Sega wouldn’t have it because of the fact that the sales of the original Bayonetta didn’t sell as well as Sega hoped. Therefore, getting any sway from Sega to help bankroll Platinum Games wish to produce Bayonetta 2 was just not something in the cards. For a while, Platinum would make the joking comment “We’ll produce Bayonetta 2 when someone can bankroll our project” and any hope of a sequel died by Sega’s hand… Until Nintendo quietly decided to bankroll Bayonetta 2. Then Nintendo went for an alpha strike… Teaser videos, Nintendo Directs with Akiko Kuroda and Yusuke Hashimoto, and the E3 Nintendo Treehouse event. Bayonetta 2 was being shown in full force! Then came the sucker punches to the jaw… “Oh? Have you not played the original game? No big deal, we’ll throw in a copy of Bayonetta remastered as compliments of the house!”, “We want to give Nintendo a HUGE thank-you for supporting our game… We’ve got promotional Nintendo themed costumes for Bayonetta!” I know I was in shock and awe over this bold step by Nintendo.

 

Bayonetta 2 is a bombastic, action packed, and witty game that provides one hell of a wild ride through the universe of Bayonetta. The battles are grand and simple while also being fun and complex. The dialogue is as witty as always. I do applaud Platinum for also offering the ability to have the Japanese and English voices as well. The inclusion of the Nintendo themed costumes (with their various remixes on the game’s effects) is a serious bonus. Giving a bonus copy of Bayonetta to introduce new players to the universe was a very shrewd decision. This is one action game not to be missed from the Wii U’s fantastic library.

 

Bayonetta 2 is available for Wii U. The game is available as a digital and physical copies as a bundle package.

 

3) Shovel Knight

Shovel Knight is a seriously deep love letter to my youth. Occasional brutal platforming sections, good/fair challenges from boss characters, cultural references to games it pays homage to… This has the whole package. Yacht Club Games definitely did their research on building this game out. It’s just a fantastic platformer that blends in bits of Mega Man (NES) and Duck Tales (NES) with a great soundtrack that I would dare say that Shovel Knight is almost period/era correct. The fact the game feels like it has the quintessential essence that is an original early 1990’s era NES game, but has very good production quality from an independent developer… It was like two ends of the gaming spectrum met. While I don’t have many words for this game… Honestly, I feel that words can’t provide this game justice. You need to play the game to experience it.

 

Shovel Knight is also available on 3DS, Windows PC, Mac, and Linux. The Windows/Mac/Linux versions are available from Yacht Club Games’ official store, Steam’s online store, and GOG.com. It is coming to PS3, PlayStation Vita, and PS4 in 2015 with more features (Twitch TV streaming, Vita rear touch panel functions, cross-saves between platforms, and “more“) as well as a special cameo of Kratos of the “God of War” video game series by Sony’s Santa Monica Studios.

 

[PlayStation Vita]

The Vita I think is a wonderful system with the worst support from PlayStation North America. There are so many wonderful games for it in Japan, from grand RPG’s to unique visual novels… These are things that I crave and desire for the western market, but sadly have to hope/pray to arrive to the Vita via third party publishers. Publishers like Xseed Games and Aksys Games have been personal saviors for me and the Vita platform. In my opinion, the Vita is a grand weapon for the Japanese RPG and visual novel fan and is well worth the pick-up. Not a fan of going portable? Sony released the PlayStation TV for the world and it allows you to play Vita games on a big TV. Now if they could only resolve the memory card prices… I think it could be a better situation. All in all, I have jokingly relegated the Vita as my niche Japanese gaming machine.

 

1) Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus

What can I say… I have no shame that this is on the top of my list. The combat is very solid and the graphics are phenomenal on the Vita. The fact that there’s also a visual novel tied into the game makes it a little extra special for me. Granted, it’s definitely not the longest game available for the system… Yes, it does feature unrealistically busty ninja school girls. On the surface, it may seem shallow, but with the depth and chaos of the combat and the visual novel elements… It makes for a really good game! I will say that the inclusion of multiplayer is definitely a nice bonus considering that Senran Kagura Burst for 3DS did not have any multiplayer whatsoever. Overall, I would say that Shinovi Versus is like if Dynasty Warriors went on an anime bender and that it excellent in my book. The visual novel does get a little bit of extra credit because it does go into the back-stories of each of the girls and most of them have really intense backgrounds that explain their personalities.

 

Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus is only available on PlayStation Vita. The availability is limited to digital distribution via PlayStation Network and a “Let’s Get Physical” limited edition version with an art book/strategy guide and soundtrack CD. There is an extra character pack that unlocks Rin and Daidoji for $7.99 should you want extra stories and characters.

 

2) Demon Gaze

No stretch of the truth… I love old fashioned dungeon crawlers. As a kid, I grew up with games like Wizardry, Might & Magic, and Ultima Underworld where you had a first person perspective while crawling through a dungeon and having to avoid devious traps and extremely strong enemies. Those games fostered a very detail oriented personality in me, because I remember scrawling on notebooks with complete maps with labels on which rooms had traps, puzzles, secret rooms, etc. Unfortunately, they aren’t so popular now… There has been a resurgence of them on PC (Might and Magic X – Legacy, Legend of Grimrock, etc), but nothing to be seen on consoles. When NIS America and Kadokawa Games announced Demon Gaze was being localized for Vita, they immediately had my attention.

 

Some may decry “ugh, yuck, anime aesthetics are horrible” or “Why would you play something so bland?!” If anything, I can say that Demon Gaze is nothing short of amazing. You have classic first person dungeon crawling, weapon forging, secrets to be found in nearly every dungeon, and other classical notes that nod to the first person dungeon crawlers of yesteryear. The visual novel portion of this game could certainly be a bit stronger as well as the the story. Those points aside, the game play is a very solid back-to-basics approach for a dungeon crawler. The game is a fairly meaty challenge as well too.

 

Demon Gaze is only available for PlayStation Vita as a digital download or a physical game card.

 

3) Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment

I do enjoy the Sword Art Online anime and this game is definitely based on the first season story arc in Ainclad. While the game is more of a “What if..?” scenario for the anime, there is also a “review” video at the start of the game if you have not watched the anime. The flow and pace of Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment is a mix between Diablo III with a visual novel element and giving the player the illusion of an MMO with regards to the number of NPC’s you can interact with. I am aware on the latter that the ./Hack series may have been better, but that’s a discussion for another time.

 

Much like an MMO, you do have to mitigate threat (indicated by the Risk gauge) by switching partners in battle. You can even direct your partner to perform certain actions and use certain tactics. Even the interface of the game feels very much like the TV anime which I think lends well to the immersion. I personally feel that it is quite fun as a game and while I normally am not a fan of video games based off of TV shows, animes, and movies… This one is probably one of the few games I am definitely more comfortable with recommending.

 

Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment is available on PlayStation Vita only as a digital download.

 

[Nintendo 3DS]

The Nintendo 3DS has been consistently in my everyday carry bag wherever I go. It’s like the perpetual novel that the avid reader would carry with them, though for me… The 3DS is like a digital gaming novel machine. In its SD card and my portable game case… I hold what would be shelves worth of books of different adventures and vast experiences. The library of games for the 3DS is certainly strong. I haven’t bought too many games this year for the system… so this one may have the least amount of major title nominations this year. With the New 3DS on the horizon for the west, the library will get stronger and it’s going to be a grand season for the New 3DS.

 

1) Super Smash Brothers for 3DS

I’m no “pro” (I mean it in a sarcastic tense), by any means at Smash Brothers games… but the 3DS one is quite fun. The ultimate party fighter megamix game, Super Smash Brothers for 3DS is probably one of the crazy-yet-mainstream games available for the system. While there is a broad cast list, I still find it fun mostly in small doses (5 minute match rounds) as a nice “coffee break” sort of game. The Smash Run mode is neat, though it makes me lament that there’s no Kirby’s Air Ride in the future… Overall, this is yet another game that is better to be experience than it is to read about. If I had only one gripe about the game… I would probably say that I wish I could map the movement on to the d-pad as I hate controlling my character with the Slide Pad. My gripe is also echoed in the Wii U version as well.

 

Super Smash Brothers for 3DS is available only for its respective platform as a digital download and game cartridge. The Wii U version is a complimented version of the 3DS game… however, if you have both games…. You have the ability to import/export custom characters and even use the 3DS as an extra controller for the Wii U version of the game.

 

2) Bravely Default

Square Enix hasn’t had a great track record lately with regards to their own label of games (that’s in stark contrast to their sub-labels pushing great games like Sleeping Dogs and Tomb Raider [2013]). If anything, I feel it’s part to do with Square Enix just being lazy while resting on their laurels. In fact, Bravely Default almost didn’t reach the North Americas without the intervention of Nintendo’s marketing and localization team getting tons of requests for it, because there were rumors that Square Enix’s business unit didn’t think the game would sell in the west. No surprise, it sold great in the west. Scumbag Square Enix assuming what us western gamers will like… which already shows they are a bit out of touch with the world. That’s another point for another time.

 

Bravely Default is another game on the list that hearkens back to the days of Super Nintendo RPG’s that were rife with complex mechanics and deep stories. While Bravely Default isn’t officially made by Square Enix (trivia fact: the game was made by Silicon Studios Japan), it definitely resonates with notes of old-fashioned Final Fantasy V. The game almost gets away with being a vintage Final Fantasy game… You’ve got a story about Crystals of the world, a job system, a vast world map… It’s pretty much all there!

 

However… I do take issue with one thing… There is one part of Bravely Default that the story telling gets (for lack of a more eloquent term) fucking lazy. I won’t spill it, but I will give folks a fair warning that it involves Chapter 5 of the game and even the “subtitle” of the chapter gives it away. I get certain story elements require certain ways to tell a story, but what happens in Chapter 5 is in my opinion one of the lazier things to artificially lengthen a game. While I am a huge sucker for JRPG’s, this was the one point that kept the game from taking top honors over Super Smash Brothers for Wii U.

 

Bravely Default is available only for 3DS as a digital download and a physical game cartridge. There was a Limited Edition kit that included a soundtrack sampler, art book, and a deck of AR (augmented reality) for the North American release, but scalpers/collectors have gone a bit mad with pricing it out of control.

 

3) Pokemon Battle Trozei

I am a fiend for puzzle games. I am a bigger fan for puzzle games that allow for very short rounds that would suffice for a “coffee break”. Pokemon Battle Trozei definitely fits the bill to that regard with a Tetris Attack/Bejeweled like set of mechanics mixed in with the realm of Pokemon. It caters to my love of Pokemon in addition to solving my occasional need to satiate my puzzle gaming fix. There’s honestly not much to say about this game, other than it’s just simple fun and honestly that’s not a bad thing this day-and-age where some major label publishers can be a bit deceptive about what they are selling.

 

Pokemon Battle Trozei is only available as a digital download for 3DS.

 

So that wraps up my 2014 picks! I regret that I haven’t been able to give Persona Q and Guilty Gear Xrd Sign a fair shake… but I can say they would have certainly made the list. There were many games that launched this year… some of them are probably worthy mentions for runner ups too. All in all, I will say with how the 2015 year in gaming is shaping up to be… I’m excited for what next year will hold.

 

[2014 Year in Review as a Gaming Academic]

With light and respect to my new/current career allowing me the ability to buy games whenever I desire, I have had my job essentially pay for some of my unicorn purchases. For the first time in a long time, I have actually bought import games this year. My job gave me an employee of the month award in cash and it was able to fund a birthday purchase of a Japanese region Xbox 360, Eschatos, and the Cave Shooting Collection Final Edition which was a HUGE target on my gaming unicorn list. I’d dare say it was like finding a proverbial holy grail of bullet hell games.

 

With relevance to import games… Last year, I had bought a Mint x White Nintendo 3DS LL and a copy of Taiko Drum Master: The Little Dragon and The Mysterious Orb (太鼓の達人 ちびドラゴンと不思議なオーブ) and this year I did also purchase Karous: The Beast of RE:eden. The former is a great rhythm and music game and it constantly reminds me I need to pick up the newer game that came out this year (Taiko Drum Master: Don and Katsu’s Great Space-Time Adventure, 太鼓の達人 どんとかつの時空大冒険). The latter (Karous) is a reminder for me that I do need to book up more on my Japanese and that games heavy on complex Kanji can be a nightmare on small (read: non-TV) displays since there’s no absolute way to verify you’re reading the character correctly. While the New 3DS is out in Japan… I do certainly plan to upgrade to it in due time (while retiring my Mint x White 3DS LL). I do want to try to purchase more import 3DS games that are more on the visual novel side to help foster my Japanese knowledge.

 

I also purchased my first import PS4 games this year as of November. Oneechanbara Z2 Chaos (mentioned above) and Ryu ga Gotoku: Ishin! (龍が如く 維新!). If you had to transliterate the title to the west, the literal translation would be “Like a Dragon: Restoration” but people will probably be more familiar with it being known as Yakuza: Restoration (which the word “Restoration” is an allusion to the time-period) While Ryu ga Gotoku: Ishin didn’t get nominated as one of my game of the year picks… It’s not to say I didn’t like the game… I confess that I had 5 – 6 meaty content-heavy games to play that I have only put in 1 hour into the game. I don’t think I would have been able to give the game justice by only basing my nomination only on 1 hour of game play. I do want to savor the game, because it takes place before the Japanese Meiji Era which is one of my favorite points in world history. It’s at the top of my queue of games I have to play once I cut down some of my gaming backlog. Ideally… I want to play Ishin with full dedication and concentration to enjoy it much like how I watch Asian dramas.

 

Fighting games are making a grand resurgence in the modern gaming climate which for me is like a revisit to my days of childhood playing Street Fighter II Turbo and Guilty Gear. I have lately been a fan of the new Killer Instinct (Xbox One) and the hand off of the game’s development to Iron Galaxy has been fantastic. Iron Galaxy has been great with community outreach and they seem genuinely interested in furthering Killer Instinct as a game in the long run. Street Fighter IV got the Ultra update this year and as a cherry on top… They recently released an “Omega” update has been a bit of a fun showing even if it isn’t perfect (see the infinite spam of Omega Gen). There’s also the recent announcement that Sony is bankrolling Capcom to develop Street Fighter V as a PS4 and PC only project. Guilty Gear Xrd Sign is finally shipping to players around the world for PS3 & PS4 and BlazBlue: ChronoPhantasma Extend is due to arrive in 2015 for PS3, PS4, and Xbox One. Add in to the mix that tournaments like the Evolution Championship Series (Evo for short) and Capcom Cup are getting more notoriety in addition to Sony providing $500,000 to next year’s Capcom Cup prize pot… Fighting games are finally starting to get a more serious rep as an eSport which I don’t think is necessarily a bad thing since it’s definitely harder to cheat at major events (with respect to the recent CounterStrike: Global Offensive cheating scandals).

 

Video games are really coming to their own as grand visions of artistic media and that goes double for some of the games that have come out this year. Some studios are pushing the bar of production higher and requiring huge budgets. Some studios are now hiring big-name Hollywood talent such as Keifer Sutherland playing Snake/Big Boss in Metal Gear: Ground Zeroes & MGS 5: The Phantom Pain or Kevin Spacey as Jonathan Irons in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. While I get that there will still be nay-sayers that “Video games can’t be art, because they are childish”, I think it is an unfortunate opinion to have in addition to being myopic in ignoring how artistic and bold video games are becoming. While the opinion/state of mind may come from things like Nintendo taking the Disney approach to video games (fun for the family, accessible to kids, substantial enough for adults)… They aren’t seeing how far video games as a medium have come along as a whole.

 

With all the above said… I want to close this year out with hopes that 2015 in gaming will be just as fruitful if not more spectacular in the number and scope of games to come out. I hope that there will be much more variety of games from both western and Asian developers for all platforms, because I always crave more unique experiences to play. Join me in wishing for a great year in gaming for 2015 and saying farewell to 2014.

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