by Kumikones in
Feature

Another year in the books. Taking a look back at all the things that happened in 2019, I find myself pleasantly surprised by the number of video game releases there was this year. It’s a number that ranges in the hundreds.

In fact, there are more video game releases in a year than there are actual days.

Knowing that I’ll never be able to keep up with the onslaught of new games coming out will always be a sore point of this hobby. Still, it makes me happy to know that this hobby has only grown as time passes.

I’m glad that the industry is healthy and that somewhere out there, there exists a game for every kind of person. Whether you’re a competitive player, an aficionado of story-driven games, or just want a quick game to pass the time, there are plenty of choices to pick from.

As for myself, 2019 was a year for celebrating many legacy franchises that I care deeply about. I returned to a good number of older games for updates, and also witnessed some unique titles that managed to surprise me. Here is a list of my top 10 gaming things this year.

#10. Resident Evil 2

My first time playing the original Resident Evil 2 from 1998 was also my first experience with the series’ more horror-driven roots. Having first experienced Capcom’s long-running franchise through its action-oriented iterations such as 4 and 5, the awkward tank controls of 2 gave me a renewed perspective of Resident Evil and its revered place in survival horror.

Resident Evil 2 Remake comes years after my foray into the classic RE games so despite my relatively earlier introduction to the series, I may as well have had the same pangs of nostalgia the moment I entered Raccoon Police Department once again this year.

The game follows all of the core tenets that made the original great. Your first introduction to the Licker is panic-inducing. The invincible Mr. X still busts through the walls of the Press Room. Zombies are just as resilient, if not more so this time around.

What has changed is the shift to modern design sensibilities such as an over-the-shoulder perspective, seamless transitioning between areas, and so on. The revamped visuals and orchestrated tracks are breathtaking when compared to the technological marvel of two decades ago, showcasing how far we’ve come.

Resident Evil 2 Remake is an experience full of scarce resources, intricate levels, and fun puzzles, yet far more intense than the original ever was. It’s a love letter to its roots, but also firm in creating a wholly unique identity that paves the way for a new generation of survival horror. 

#9. Devil May Cry 5

The game that cemented 2019 as the year of Capcom. The excellent Resident Evil 2 was immediately followed by Devil May Cry 5 less than two months later. As a huge fan of action games and the series as a whole, I was more than excited for the return of the whacky pizza man Dante on his new demon-slaying adventure.

Other great action games this year, such as Sekiro and Astral Chain, follow very different philosophies from DMC5. The former two focus on methodical play and limitation of player freedom in order to craft challenging environments. On the other hand, DMC5 falls under a subgenre called a spectacle fighter.

The point of a spectacle fighter is, basically, to pull off as many stylish moves as you can against your enemies.

It’s not so much about how you bypass an enemy, but more so how great you looked while beating them up. It’s this freedom that has delivered so much enjoyment to me compared to the other action offerings this year.

 

DMC5 doesn’t stray far from the established formula. If you just played Devil May Cry 4 the other day, you’ll feel right at home with this game. However, the developers at Capcom made small changes certain properties, animations and cancel windows to promote accessibility.

The result is a game that feels the same, yet is also unhinged. I’ve spent countless hours in the DMC5s training mode honing my execution and playing around with different tools to pull off combos that I wouldn’t even dream of doing in the previous games. It’s easily one of the finest character action games ever made and manages to pull it off with a small but functional move list compared to its direct competitor, Bayonetta.

#8. BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle and Street Fighter V Balance Overhauls

I’m a big fan of fighting games. Though the genre has been undergoing a renaissance of sorts in recent years, none of the games I’m going to mention here actually launched this year.

The games I am talking about are of course BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle (2018) and Street Fighter V (2016). What makes these games interesting this 2019 is the introduction of some huge and game-changing balance updates.

BBTAG and SFV’s new balance updates this year (called BBTAG 2.0 and SFV Champion Edition respectively) gave players new mechanics as well as characters to sink their teeth into. As you may have surmised from my Devil May Cry 5 entry, I find a lot of enjoyment in getting to experiment with gameplay and seeing how things turn out.

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The meta of video games typically solidifies after a while under the sun, but these changes have thoroughly shaken things up. It’s like playing two brand new games. I think it’s fair to say that I had a great time exploring all the interesting, strange, and hilarious interactions that would result from these balance updates.

#7.Granblue Fes 2019 Reveals New Granblue Console Game Trailers

For those who may be unaware, Granblue Fantasy is a popular browser and mobile Japanese role-playing game that launched in 2014. And if you’re wondering what an ancient mobile game has to do with a 2019 list, I assure you there are a couple of good reasons.

The game’s annual festival, Granblue Fantasy Fes 2019, celebrated Granblue Fantasy with special concerts, attractions, free in-game freebies, as well as exclusive merchandise. As someone who dabbles the game myself, I did find some of the events and announcements on future content to be somewhat intriguing.

Still, this festival was also special as a spearhead for the IP’s console game initiatives. Developer Cygames revealed new trailers for Granblue Fantasy Versus, it’s upcoming 2020 fighting game, as well as Granblue Fantasy Relink, a fully-fledged action RPG that will launch later down the line.

A quick look at the quality of these games is enough to inform that Cygames is taking the console market seriously. The mobile game itself has a wealth of established character designs, artwork, and stories, so I’m personally excited to see this world brought to life in a consumer product with high production values.

It’s rare to find newcomers in the console JRPG space these days, so new competition is certainly welcome. Doubly so if dungeon raiding with friends and an epic boss fight are their ways of making a good first impression. Granblue Fantasy Relink is looking incredible at pulling off a raid experience that’s just as exhilarating as MMOs like Final Fantasy XIV.

Which brings me to the next point.

#6. Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers

I’ve been a fan of Final Fantasy XIV ever since its A Realm Reborn (2013) release, which was the replacement for the failed and critically panned 2010 version of the game. Few MMOs have grabbed me so well, but I found myself smitten by this game’s focus on delivering a single-player story, its ease in letting me team up with other allies, as well as all the clever homages to the Final Fantasy series along the way.

After two successful expansions, Shadowbringers comes along as, to my surprise, probably the best Final Fantasy story that the series has seen in the past decade. While the game has always played the premise of you being the chosen Warrior of Light that’s destined to save the world, Shadowbringers challenges the mindless glorification of this idea.

What is a hero? What is the meaning in their sacrifice, and what is the legacy that they eventually leave behind? These were questions that swam through my head as I played through the game. I was hooked.

In some ways, Shadowbringers’ story is an introspective look into the very core of Final Fantasy, as well as JRPGs as a whole. It deconstructs the classic JRPG story trope of chosen heroes and good versus evil, all while remaining a classic JRPG story in its own right that. Despite its themes, it never attempts to betray the expectations of its well-earned fanbase and I find that fascinating.

Being just one chapter in a large and sprawling MMO, I do not expect Shadowbringers to be as revered as many mainline Final Fantasy titles, but I loved it nonetheless for its unique perspective, which helped me better understand my unrelenting love for this genre.

#5. Hands-on Beta Tests of Upcoming Games

Every now and then, video game companies give us a hands-on sneak peek at their new games as a way of receiving feedback. I’m not usually one to give a shot at beta builds of a game, but plenty of the ones this year were games that I was quite interested in getting. And so I sort of became a beta gremlin this year.

My play sessions included beta tests for Code Vein, Monster Hunter World: Iceborne, Nioh 2, as well as Granblue Fantasy Versus.

Amongst these titles, I was very impressed with Code Vein and Nioh 2’s character creators. They fall somewhere under the Souls-like genre of titles, but absolutely innovate on the milquetoast character creators of FromSoftware’s games. While I wasn’t a fan of Code Vein’s combat, I left Nioh 2’s beta feeling optimistic about its progression system, as well as the combat freedom it provided.

Iceborne’s beta straight off from one of my favourite games of last year, Monster Hunter World. It was a lot of fun to have had a chance over a weekend to see what this expansion was all about. New environments, new monsters, and lots of quirky outfits for our lovely Palico Cats. What’s there not to love?

Lastly, I was lucky enough to receive a code to try out the closed beta for Granblue Fantasy Versus. It’s the first fighting game I’ve tried that uses cooldowns on special moves, as well as provides easy shortcuts for executing them.

Interestingly, this completely changes the dynamic of how you approach a regular match. My experience with the beta was very positive and has even elevated this game to becoming one of my most anticipated titles of 2020.

Getting a chance to try out some of my anticipated upcoming games throughout the year was an absolute blast. I enjoyed getting to a practical understanding of the developers’ visions of their games, and then being able to contribute valuable feedback their way before the game’s release. All of these sessions being free experiences over comfortable weekends was just icing on top of the cake.

#4. Gunvolt Chronicles: Luminous Avenger iX

Remember the Mega Man Zero series? It’s one of the most recognizable spin-offs in the Mega Man franchise. Developer Inti Creates worked on that and were even behind the subsequent ZX series. The company is excellent at crafting hardcore platformers with innovative mechanics but hasn’t worked on a Mega Man game in over a decade.

Enter Azure Striker Gunvolt (2014), a spiritual successor to the Zero, published independently by Inti Creates itself. On a whim, I’d decided to give the series a shot with Gunvolt Chronicles: Luminous Avenger iX, a spin-off which features a different protagonist from the titular Gunvolt, named Copen.

Now don’t get me wrong, Luminous Avenger iX isn’t that mind-blowing of a game. As an indie title without the backing of a big company like Capcom, it doesn’t have remotely the same quality level design and content that you might typically expect, especially if you played Mega Man 11 last year.

What the game does have in spades though are great gameplay ideas. The bosses, for instance, are multi-phase battles that always pull out a trump card once they drop down to a third of their health. There’s something exhilarating about whittling the boss down and then having to endure their all-out special attack before delivering the final blow.

The Bullit system presiding Copen’s gameplay is also a flexible mechanic that allows skilled players to zip around levels like wizards, and casual players to defensively shield against attacks. On top of a handy Resurrection mechanic to save you from frustrating deaths, it’s impressive how accessible the game is to all skill levels.

Luminous Avenger iX this year was a pleasant surprise because, despite being a spiritual successor to the Zero series and being more limited in scope, it also puts forth unique and innovative design philosophies that has me excited at the prospect of a new Mega Man game by the folks at Inti Creates. Now that Capcom has finally revived the Blue Bomber after more than eight years of silence, I have my fingers crossed.

#3. Half-Life: Alyx Trailer

Valve still can’t count to three. But maybe that’s fine for now. The company has spent the better half of the decade affixed on managing its Steam platform and investing in VR technology. It’s hard to say that I’ve been a fan of that.

I certainly didn’t care for their increased focus on service games such as Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive rather than pushing out the single-player experiences that they first became renowned for.

Which is why the reveal of Half-Life: Alyx, a virtual reality first-person shooter set in the Half-Life universe, was one that genuinely shocked me. It’s simply not something I would have expected Valve to go for in this current industry climate. Single-player games probably no longer make sense for them because you can’t continuously monetize those.

I’m one of those people that firmly believe that Half-Life laid out the groundwork for first-person shooters as we see today. In fact, Half-Life 2 remains one of the best examples in my eyes on how you can tell a complete story purely through immediate circumstances and the environment.

Even though I would have preferred a direct continuation to the 2007 cliffhanger of Half-Life 2: Episode 2, I can’t say I’m dissatisfied that Valve is doing something with the Half-Life IP again. Half-Life: Alyx could prove to be a return to form for the company as far as single-player games go, even if it might turn out wonky as a VR experience.

The fact that a Half-Life game was actually announced in 2019 is still surreal to me, but I’m ecstatic about it.

#2. Final Fantasy Titles on the Nintendo Switch

2019 was quite an interesting year for Final Fantasy. If you own a Nintendo Switch, you’ll no doubt have noticed the surge of mainline FF titles showing up on the Nintendo eShop. The games that showed up on the platform just this year were Final Fantasy VII, VIII Remastered, IX, X/X-2, and Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age.

That makes five titles in total that came out on the Switch in rapid succession. It’s even more interesting to note that this also marks the first time that these titles have ever appeared on any console platform outside from PlayStation’s.

I’m glad that the games are now even more accessible than ever, and that Nintendo (and Microsoft) fans are getting their shot at experiencing some iconic JRPG experiences. Personally speaking, I’ve been having a blast playing Final Fantasy X/X-2 on the go.

Final Fantasy on commutes, in the park, and even during dinner? It’s certainly an exciting time to be a Switch owner and a JRPG fan.

#1. Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Fire Emblem is a series that first earned its chops as a punishing strategy game. And yet, my favourite part of Three Houses has been its consistently charming writing and dialogue, as well as its likeable cast of characters.

I’ve grown attached to all of the students that roam the game’s Hogwarts-like fantasy school setting. Battles are long and strategic as they come, but I find myself more eager to wander the school grounds to see what my merry class is up to. I learn about their motivations and anxieties. I dive into emotional, eccentric, and often funny support conversations. For a game with such a massive cast of characters, it does a surprisingly good job at developing their personalities and backstories.

Part of what has made my experience with Three Houses even better is how social it has been. Ever since the game came out, the internet buzz around it has exploded. Even as its hype dies down, I have still been exchanging memes and fanart with friends. The internet is a treasure trove of love by all kinds of talented individuals who also share a love for the game and its characters.

Unsurprisingly, it’s an experience that happily complements the game’s permadeath mode. When units die in this mode, they… well… die. There’s no bringing them back, which creates some interesting emotional stakes for what would otherwise be a decent albeit somewhat convoluted tactical game.

To me, Three Houses is the essence of what I love about video games. Beyond its deep gameplay, it’s chock full of little nuances that are fun to share with friends. Everyone’s discussing the game and discovering new things, and they’re all more than happy to poke fun at it from different perspectives.

2019 was not without its gaming controversies, so it’s nice to be able to fall back on a game that reminds me of why I have so much fun with them in the first place. With that being said, here’s to another grand year of gaming in 2020.

A huge JRPG fan and budding Nintendo enthusiast, who has also made a hobby out of figuring out gameplay systems. Enjoys living in a world where, "Wake up, get up, get out there," is an iconic phrase.
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