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My Top 10 Video Games of 2014

It’s that time of the year again where every media outlet makes their own top 10 list of various things that came out through-out the year. So, like the scum that I am, I’m cashing in on the trend and made a list of my own: My Top 10 Video Games of 2014.

Before I begin with the countdown, a few tidbits to serve as a disclaimer. I haven’t played all the games this year (though I would have liked to), so the list serves as a list for games that I have played this year. I am particular to niche genres such as RPGs, Fighting Games, and Character Action Games so you’ll see a lot of those in the list. And with that being said, let’s get the ball rolling and start off this list.

Official artwork courtesy of: http://www.gameranx.com/img/14-Feb/finalfantasylightningreturns-wide.jpg

10. Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns

And we start off the list with a dark horse/controversial title. Despite the criticism that the Final Fantasy XIII games received from long time fans and critics alike, I truly enjoy the games and in fact hold Final Fantasy XIII as one of my favorites in the entire Final Fantasy series. As for this, the third game in the XIII saga, I find it not as good as the first game but certainly better than the second (which I have mixed feelings about). Lightning Returns changes up the formula of the series by having a completely different battle system from its predecessors which acts like a blend between a real time battle a la Kingdom Hearts and the Active Time Battle system used in the previous two games.

The interesting thing about the game is that it has a timed element to it. Similar to The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask,  Lightning has 13 (the series has a fetish for the number 13) days to complete her quest before the world ends. Her goal during the 13 days is to save as much people, including friends and past party members from the previous games alike, from impending doom. Doing so also helps in extending the time limit as at the beginning of the game you only have 7 days to work with. FYI, 1 day  in-game is equivalent to 1 hour in real time, but there are means to extend that time. As for the story, Lightning Returns serves as a direct follow-up to Final Fantasy XIII-2. Following the events of the previous game’s ending, Lightning is chosen as the Savior who is tasked with saving as much people as she can before the world ends. Her reward and primary motivation for doing so is that her sister Serah, who died during the ending of the previous title, will be revived when the world is created anew.

The reason why this game is on my list is because I liked how the game felt unique as compared to any other JRPG. I found the timed element to it very fun to work around, manipulate, and play with. It presents a very unique risk vs. reward mechanic in regards to sidequesting and story progression, as every area is open up to you from the beginning and it’s all up to the player’s discretion on how to progress through the game but because the game is on a timer you have to manage your time well or risk the premature end of your game (the game gives you a bad end if your time runs out before the 13th day). With that being said though the reason the game is so low on my list is because the story falls short. The non-linear nature of the game progression can lead to very disconnected plot progression, and the plot overall is very weak in the first place. With that being said though the game is still one of my favorite of the year and in fact beat out Dark Souls II for a spot on my list (that’s a hint Dark Souls II isn’t on my list).

Artwork from: http://static.3dsconnect.com/2013/03/Shovel-Knight.jpg

9. Shovel Knight

Ever since the success of Minecraft, indie games have been garnering a lot more attention from the mainstream audience and Shovel Knight is one of the best indie games I’ve played this year. Harking back to the days of NES platformers, Shovel Knight looks and plays like you’re back in those times. Given that description you’d expect nothing else but an action platformer in the same vein of games like Megaman, Castlevania before the days of the Metroidvania, and Ghosts ‘n Goblins and you would be absolutely correct…minus the absurd difficulty of some of those titles–not that Shovel Knight is easy mind you. The player is put in the control of the titular Shovel Knight as you action platform your way across the world on your quest to stop the Enchantress and her Knights of the Order of No Quarter and find out the fate of Shovel Knight’s beloved partner, Shield Knight.

As previously advertised, Shovel Knight plays exactly as I described: you jump and attack your way through levels as you collect power-ups through-out your journey increasing Shovel Knight’s abilities as the game progresses, similar to a Megaman game. The brilliance of the game is that it came out at the perfect time: action platformers have become a rarity thus the demand for the genre has never been higher. Not to belittle the game itself mind you, it’s incredibly fun and if you are a fan of these sorts of games, you owe it to yourself to play it. Oh and the music is simply amazing it’s one of the games whose soundtrack I’d like to own.

Promo art, Source: http://baltimorepostexaminer.com/wp-content/uploads/danganronpa-trigger-happy-havoc.jpg-w820.jpg

8. Trigger Happy Havoc: Danganronpa

First and foremost, in my opinion visual novels are games, and Danganronpa is probably one of the most engaging VNs I’ve ever played, that and it actually has a lot of gameplay to it. The story of Danganaronpa is a mixture between Phoenix Wright, Battle Royale, and Mirai Nikki. It revolves around a group of gifted high school students who are trapped in their school by a mysterious stuffed bear known as Monokuma. Monokuma forces them to live with each other trapped in the school for the rest of their lives unless one of them kills another and gets away with it after which all the remaining survivors would be killed by the bear and the perpetrator is allowed to leave, otherwise the murderer would be punished and killed by Monokuma if he were to be found guilty.

In case you didn’t notice the plot of the game sounds anime as f***. The gameplay is divided into 3 portions: daily life where you interact with the other characters and learn more about them (which will help you in the later portions), the investigation where you search for clues about the murder, and finally the trial. If you’re a fan of the Ace Attorney series I recommend giving this game a shot, its got a really intriguing story and cast of colorful characters that you’re not gonna forget anytime soon.

ToX2 logo sourced from: http://gematsu.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Tales-of-Xillia-2-Announced.jpg

7. Tales of Xillia 2

Ironically, the other JRPG on my list has similar elements and themes to Lightning Returns. Tales of Xillia 2 is the 14th mothership title, which basically just means “main series”, in the long running Tales of franchise (one of my personal favorite JRPG series), and is a direct follow up to the previous entry in the series: Tales of Xillia. The game centers around a new characters Ludger Kresnik and Elle as Ludger searches for his brother Julius who was implicated in an act of terrorism, and Elle seeks to be reunited with her father and go to the land of Canaan. The party from the original game also join in Ludger’s quest, now accompanied by Gaius and Muzèt the primary antagonists of the first game. New to the series is the inclusion of a “morality” system. Basically, the player is given dialogue and path choices at certain points in the game that alter the progression of the story and relationships between Ludger and the other party members, both of which alter the endings the player can receive.

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The battle system is similar to that of Tale of Xillia 1, enabling you to link with your party members in battle, giving you access to new skills and abilities. It improves upon this by giving Ludger a weapon switch system. Ludger can switch between twin swords, sledgehammers, and a pair of handguns, each of which have their own unique attacks. The other members of the party play exactly as they did in the first game with little tweaks to their moves. All in all Tales of Xillia 2 improves a lot on the first game’s base, particularly bosses don’t have ridiculous amounts of super armor, and has a narrative that makes the game stand out from the previous entries in the Tales of franchise thus easily allow this game to make my list.

Mario Kart 8 promo art: http://www.eggplante.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Mario-Kart-8-Promo-Art-750×400.jpg

6. Mario Kart 8

Truth be told I never was that big of a Nintendo. I was a Sega baby, and have been a Sony fanboy til the 7th generation of consoles (PS3). In this generation though, the games announced for the WiiU sold me on the console, and Mario Kart 8 is one of those games. There’s not really much to discuss about the game though, I mean if you’ve played any Mario Kart game, you’ve played ’em all. With that being said though Mario Kart 8 is amazingly fun. It’s still your tried and tested Mario Kart formula, race 11 other characters in a multitude of tracks with power-ups laid about the track to help the player gain an advantage over the other racers.

The surprising thing about Mario Kart 8, and all recent Nintendo releases for that matter, is that not only does the game look great it runs on that smooth, smooth 60fps. Bonus points for the netcode used for online play as well. I’ve put a lot of hours online on this game and even against players from other countries, the lag is practically non-existent and it is a really smooth experience. F*** the blue shell though.

Official Smash Bros 4 logo from: http://www.smashbros.com/us/images/index/image/main-wiiu-logo.png

5. Super Smash Brothers for WiiU

Another reason for my decision to get a WiiU over the other consoles: neither the PS4 nor the XBOne has an exclusive title that interests me…the WiiU has multiple. What more can I say about Smash Bros that you don’t already know? It’s fighting game the allows you to pick a Nintendo character of your choice and beat the ever living snot out of other Nintendo characters. It is one of the best party games in existence, and also one of the games that ruins friendships the easiest. New to the series, and exclusive for the WiiU version of the game, is 8 Player Smash. 8 Player Smash is exactly as it sounds: 8 players in 1 match of pure chaos, and it is absolutely glorious.

Now, you might be surprised about the placement of Smash in the middle of the list. I mean, Smash is probably gonna be AT LEAST top 3 on most lists. The reason this game isn’t higher on my list is because 1) the netcode of the game is absolute trash, from my experience with online play, even with friends in the same country the game lags really hard, which sucks cause I am a pretty active online warrior; and 2) I enjoyed 4 other games in this list more.

Overall though, Smash is probably my favorite iteration in the series mainly because 8 player matches are freaking hilarious.

Persona 4: AU’s boxart from: http://www.personacentral.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/P4AU-Box-Headline.png

4. Persona 4: Arena Ultimax

The original Persona 4: Arena turned out to be one of my favorite games of all time. It really got me into the fighting game scene, and helped make some friends by bonding over the game. Now the question for me was: will this game live up to the standards I hold for the first game? The answer is: yes. The sequel changed up a lot of things for the cast from the first game. A lot of moves were changed up, there were some buffs and nerfs handed out, and the addition of Shadow characters who have different mechanics and the old moveset of the returning characters in the cast.

Additionally, Ultimax added 9 new characters to the cast, 3 of which are DLC, more stages, more music, basically a LOT more content over the original game. The story mode again makes a return and like the original game, it actually has good writing. The story itself is an immediate follow-up from the plot of the first Arena. Despite saving Labrys from the TV world, the Investigation Team were still stumped as to who the perpetrator of the events was. Suddenly, the team from Persona 3: Mitsuru, Akihiko, and Aigis go missing and it’s up to Yu and friends to find out the cause. As for the netplay experience of the game, it’s still standard good netcode from Arcsys games. The online matches sometimes have lag but most of the time, even with no bars on the network quality indicator.

I consider Persona 4: Arena Ultimax an excellent successor to the first Arena, as it tops it in every way. I really need to play the game more though, because of the next game(s) down on the list, and Smash, I’ve been neglecting this game.

Art from BoI:R’s steam page: http://cdn.akamai.steamstatic.com/steam/apps/250900/header.jpg?t=1418370524

3. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

Developed by Nicalis (101 Spikes, Cave Story), Rebirth is the remake to the 2011 game by Edmund Mcmillen (of Super Meat Boy fame) The Binding of Isaac. I was a big fan of the original game putting several hundred hours of playtime into it. So needless to say, I was excited for this game, and yet I was also a bit skeptical about it. The original game was already really good and I’d say didn’t really warrant a remake…BOY WAS I WRONG.

The original, while good, had a lot of problems. Because it ran on the Flash engine, it had a locked framerate at 30fps and tended to drop frames during play. Rebirth on the other hand runs on it’s own proprietary engine thus the game runs MUCH smoother than the original. Hell my old laptop can play the game on a consistent 60fps. But that’s not the only improvements Rebirth has over the original Binding of Isaac. The original has a total of 196 collectible items in the game, Rebirth in comparison has 341. Not only that, but most items now work with one another where in the original Binding of Isaac, most items would override one another.

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Since it’s release, I’ve already accumulated approximately 300 hours of playtime on Rebirth. Yeah there was no question that this game would make it on this list. Plus, Edmund and Nicalis have announced plans for an expansion, so expect that to make my Top 10 list next year.

Drakengard 3’s official logo courtesy of: http://www.legitreviews.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Drakengard-3-logo.jpg

2. Drakengard 3

You probably never heard of Drakengard, much less the 3rd in the series, and I wouldn’t blame you for it. The original Drakengard came out for the PS2, it was developed by Cavia and published by Square Enix. One could describe the game as Panzer Dragoon meets Dynasty Warriors. The gameplay itself was nothing spectacular, in fact it was quite boring AND grindy making it a monotonous experience. The thing that made the game interesting though was that it had a really dark, moody, depressing, and over all oppressive story which cemented it as a cult classic of the PS2 era. Now, Drakengard 3 released earlier this year on the PS3. Taro Yoko returned to his position as director after his absence for the team of the 2nd Drakengard.

The game itself, to be generous about it, wasn’t that well received by critics. I on other hand, absolutely loved the game. The gameplay, while not spectacular, is much more interesting than it’s predecessors. Combat was made much more dynamic having a weapon switch system wherein Zero, the protagonist of the game, is able to carry 4 weapons into a level and freely switch between the weapons. Where the game excels though is in its story. The story is set before the events of the first game and serves as the foundation of the entire timeline, so it’s a prequel. The game follows Zero on her quest to kill her sisters, who are collectively known as the Intoners who are godlike beings who united the world. The reason for that, I will leave ambiguous as story is stellar and is something you should experience on your own.

The music is also amazing with composer Keiichi Okabe returning to the series after his work on Nier, a side-story/sequel to Drakengard. Songs like “This Silence is Mine” and “The Last Song” (for reasons) stick with me til today. Overall I completely adore Okabe’s works, especially the soundtrack of the game. Being able to fully complete the game remains one of my personal greatest achievements as a gamer. Those who have played games in the series know that the series tends to troll the player with insanely difficult challenges, and being able to complete the game gave me such a sense of accomplishment.

The game, while not free of faults (its frame rate is completely shot in a lot of areas for example), became one of the greatest games of the 7th generation of gaming for me. Because of that Drakengard 3 makes it to the number 2 spot on my list.

Now on to the grand finale of my list, my game of 2014…

You know the deal, Bayonetta 2 official boxart coming to you from: http://canadianonlinegamers.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Bayonetta-2-featured.jpg

1. Bayonetta 2

THE reason I own a WiiU. Ever since I heard about Bayonetta 2’s development, I knew that I had to get a WiiU. The first game WAS one of my favorite games of all time, and the game I HELD as the pinnacle of the character action genre. Developed by Platinum games, masters of game design as far as I am concerned, and published by Nintendo, Bayonetta 2 came out late October of this year to critical acclaim. Building on the foundation of the original, Bayonetta 2 plays a lot like the first game. It still features the series’ trademark Witch Time, which slows down time when the player evades an attack at the last moment. The implementation of Witch Time is an ingenious mechanic as it gives the player a great sense of accomplishment, being able to avoid damage and reward the player for dodging at the perfect moment with slowed down time and the ability to wreak havoc on the enemies.

Bayonetta 2 isn’t free of new mechanics though. Umbran Climax, a new ability given to Bayonetta gives the player the ability to trigger a “super mode” where Bayonetta is able to fully materialize her summoned demons and deal massive damage to enemies. If you’re familiar with Devil May Cry’s Devil Trigger, it acts in the same fashion. To activate Umbran Climax the player must build their Magic meter by attacking enemies and triggering Witch Time. Again, another brilliantly implemented mechanic that further rewards the player for being good at the game. Further improvements on the first game include having less “clone weapons” and more weapons that have their own unique moves and animations.

You see, in the first Bayonetta, your armory consisted of many types firearms. The problem with this is that each weapon has the same animations, albeit with different models, and movesets as Bayonetta’s default weapons: the “Scarborough Fair” handguns. Bayonetta 2 completely does away with this, and no weapon in the game has the same moveset as another; hell even the “Love is Blue”, which is this game’s default weapon, has different combos from “Scarborough Fair,” which you can unlock. The music is again wonderful, featuring songs such as a remix of “Moon River” that serves as the credits theme for the game.

The story, while nothing spectacular, is a vast improvement over that of the first game’s. Gone is the amnesiac protagonist storyline, instead we are given a far more compelling plot which involves Bayonetta having to travel to hell to rescue her friend Jeanne after her soul was taken during a botched summoning. In contrast to Bayonetta 1, the 2nd game has clearer motivation for the player to progress through the plot in order to save Jeanne. It’s nothing like, say, Drakengard 3’s story, but it is serviceable and has it’s enjoyable moments.

The most outstanding thing about the game though is it’s pacing. The player isn’t given a moment of rest wherein every level feels like the final level for another game. As an example: you’re fighting hoards of enemies on top of a crashing jet in one moment, the next on top of an out of control train in battle with a giant, succeeding that on top of a skyscraper trading blows with a dragon. AND THAT’S JUST THE PROLOGUE! The game doesn’t let up and is an enjoyable experience all through-out.

The cherry on this incredibly awesome cake? The value: the game comes with a free copy of Bayonetta 1 with added content. Needless to say Bayonetta 2 is my favorite game from this year, and in fact has replaced the original game’s spot on my list of favorite games of all time. If you have a WiiU you owe it to yourself to buy this masterpiece of a game.

Bayonetta 2 is my new standard for what a game should be, and is my Game of the Year.

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Leandro Chan
Leandro Chan
Also known as the saltiest person on the planet. He loves all things geek particularly video games, board games, and anime.
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