Top 5 Games of 2019

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Well, we’re coming up to the end of 2019 and- y’know, let’s be honest: this year was a fantastic year for gaming and game-related announcements. There have been so many games that have left amazing impressions on every gamer. Whether it was the innovative but divisive Death Stranding, the here-then-gone (and still divisive) darling Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, or any of the other fantastic titles ranging from indie masterpieces to triple-AAA action thrillers that were released, no one’s top picks seem to be the same, even if certain titles do seem to pop up more often than others.

So which games did I enjoy that didn’t quite make the top cut?

Well, it was a pleasant surprise to see translations and ports of Square Enix offerings like Collection of Mana, Romancing SaGa 3, and SaGa: Scarlet Grace – Ambitions, all of which were admirable and well-preserved titles. Nelke and the Legendary Alchemists and Atelier Lulua were potent returns to quality for the Atelier series that were well-produced and deserve some recognition as solid JRPGs, too. In the vein of horror, Blair Witch received a rocky reception from some, but it was one of my favorite horror offerings from 2019, even with its design bumps. The indie scene has had some strong efforts, too, including the heart-grasping Newfound Courage. Of course, that’s only a fraction of the games I experienced, and there were plenty of releases that didn’t fall into my wheelhouse that other folks really enjoyed.

With the honorable mentions situated, though, here are the five games I’m walking away from 2019 with the most impact from, one way or another. Even with the numbers attached, this isn’t a rigid ranking. All of these games left me mesmerized and kept my attention and excitement from beginning to end, whether two hours or 80-plus.

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5. Untitled Goose Game – PS4, XB1, Switch, PC

What a media darling the Goose has become. What was teased as a game about being a goose who acts like a jerk to a guy in a garden turned out to be a game about being a goose who acts like a jerk to an entire village. What a refreshing turn of events!

House House did a great thing by making a minimalist puzzler with a forgiving learning curve and a fun “pick up and play” model. As much of a nuisance as the titular bird can be, they’ve got a charm about them that makes the player want to turn the hose on a gardener or steal a man’s slipper to achieve their ultimate goal. Everything down to the quirky sound design is delightful.

In a world full of explosions and do-gooding farmer-types, Untitled Goose Game offered up the Chaotic Good distraction that stuck with me and plenty of other people after the credits rolled.

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4. Arcade Spirits – PC, Switch, PS4, XB1

One would think that as someone who likes to read and play video games, the visual novel genre would have been a vein I would have mined into already. I’ve dipped a toe a couple of times, but it wasn’t until Arcade Spirits that I hunkered down and read from digital cover to cover.

The tale of a self-insert protagonist taking up a job at an arcade is a pretty easy mark to hit for anyone who knows the gaming community. Arcade Spirits took it a step further by researching the historical video game crash of 1983 and displaying a future in which it never happened, resulting in a flourishing arcade scene. Not only that, it offers up a lot of interesting trivia about arcades and machines in general. Even better? The game is incredibly LGBTQ+ friendly even offering a Them/They option for gender at character creation.

Maybe it was because it was my first visual novel or maybe it was the passion that shone through in the dialogue, story, and inclusivity form the developers. Arcade Spirits was something very special.

(My review of Arcade Spirits can be found here for some more insights.)

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3. Fire Emblem: Three Houses – Switch

Let me surprise you by adding Fire Emblem: Three Houses, a game I’ve ranted about for months now, to a Top 5 list from the year. The Fire Emblem series is one of the main series that I follow but after the strange quality fluctuation I felt between Fire Emblem Fates and Echoes of Valentia (my favorite game from 2017), I was a little nervous about Three Houses and the choice for multiple stories and paths to follow.

All of that went out the window once I booted the game up. The world at the Garreg Mach Monastery was immersive with so much more to do than bounce from battle to battle. The characters were layered and interesting to interact with. The story had some great beats and the amount of customization and side stories made the first path and 85 hours feel like they flew by. It was hard not to get invested, even with characters and plot points I wouldn’t normally be interested in.

Fire Emblem has gained its footing soundly thanks to some of the strong entries that have come out in recent years. With all of the hype behind Three Houses, though, Nintendo really had to knock it out of the park. It’s pretty safe to say that they did by most measures.

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2. Atelier Ryza ~Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout~ – Switch, PS4, PC

If you noticed that I only mentioned two of the three Atelier games that came out this year in my honorable mentions introduction, congratulations on your astute senses! Anyone who’s gotten within earshot of me in the past few months has heard about how much I loved Atelier Ryza, the start of the next “-ogy” of the series.

Advertising a new adventure about friendship, growing up, and making memories, Atelier Ryza delivered on its promises with a story about a group of friends trying to find their place in the world while solving mysteries about their homeland. On another important note for a series that is twenty-one entries deep, it made the mechanics and plot accessible to beginners and experienced alchemists alike. The game was fun and emotional from the start.

Suffice to say, I’m looking forward to the next game in the Darkness series to see what happens with these characters and their growth. If anyone is looking to get into the series in a modern way, Atelier Ryza is probably the way to go. The crafting system, storytelling, and presentational direction haven’t been this sweet in the series for some time.

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1. Resident Evil 2 – PS4, XB1, PC

Growing up, Resident Evil 2 was a favorite of mine. Before the series fell squarely into action horror, the follow-up to the original game continued the story of Raccoon City and the horrific zombie outbreak that overtook its streets. The mix of atmosphere and B-movie style approach to dialogue and plot made for a worthwhile game to remember.

With Capcom’s reputation leading up to the past couple of years, concerns were raised that Resident Evil 2‘s remake would be an attempt to exploit nostalgia for an easy grab at cash for the company. The more that released concerning the game, though, the more doubt was pushed aside. By the time it was set to release, my excitement had gone through the roof. I attended the first midnight release for a game I have in years, and I lost thirteen hours in two days barreling through the game. I couldn’t put it down. Not only did the game update the visuals and front-end factors, but it improved on the narrative and just about every other aspect of the original. The reimagining treated the original like a blueprint and built its own mansion off of it.

Returning to its horror roots, Resident Evil 2 had terror in spades even with the amped-up action. Fans of the original could still relive the glory days of the series while other people would get an expertly crafted game with smooth controls, great pacing, and earnest attempts at entertaining the player. I’m already planning my next playthrough soon- and if you have any interest at all in this game, I’d suggest you get the chance as soon as you can.

This year, I feel like I played a lot more of the games that were actually released in 2019, a feat in and of itself considering the immense backlog growing behind me even as I type. I’m already looking forward to a host of games coming out in 2020, but it’s nice to look back at what really stuck with me and why throughout the past year. Considering I haven’t seen many “Best Of” lists that have been the same from folks, I’m interested in hearing some other people weighing in on their favorites from 2019. Feel free to chat a bit in the comments about any favorite games (or even games you might have thought would be your favorites but didn’t stand up to the expectation) or over on Twitter!

Since I’ll most likely pick up writing for the new year soon, I hope you all had a great holiday and have a Happy New Year!

– Matt (a.k.a. The3rdPlayer)

 

Testimony of an Apocolypse – Fondly Remembering Resident Evil 2

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(Note: this article will contain spoilers for the first five or so minutes of the original version of this game. Consider yourself warned! – 3P)

I remember exactly where I was and who was present when I first played Resident Evil 2.

In my best friend’s living room, the family had made way for us to play our new game on the big TV in the living room. He and I were ecstatic, having bonded over other games like Tomb RaiderWild Arms, and Syphon Filter among plenty of others. We had never played the original Resident Evil together, but both of us were so excited to get into the second installment after trying the demo that I had made a successful plea to my parents to buy the game for me; I was 14 at the time, so plea bargains were commonplace to get the hot new releases coming out.

Our mothers chatted idly in the kitchen while his brother, who was older than us by a few years, stood by and watched us with amusement and his own interest in the game. His then-girlfriend was also there, at least excited by osmosis, as I don’t think she was much of a gamer.

My friend judiciously decided that I should be the first person to break ground on this new trek through the undead. I popped the disc in, grabbed a controller, and stationed myself right in the middle of the room, the lights dim as the sun was setting outside, lowering us naturally into the looming shadows of the night.

Soon thereafter, I was greeted by my protagonist, a determined-looking young woman clad in red and black, gliding into Raccoon City on her motorcycle: Claire Redfield. As she stepped into Emmy’s Diner and found herself face to face with her first (of hundreds) reanimated adversary, my adrenaline started to pump. She wasn’t a hardened military type like her lost brother, Chris, or Jill Valentine. She wasn’t even a cop like Leon Scott Kennedy, the other option for the main character. She was a college student, unaware of the danger she was in. She was Laurie Strode, Nancy Thompson, and Sidney Prescott; the Final Girl of Resident Evil 2.

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After being rescued by Leon, however, her composure is regained and the two of them, working to decipher their situation, wind up separated once again by an unexpected tractor trailer. Once again, I was alone, surrounded by the flames of the crash and already with zombies looming before me. It didn’t take long- maybe unloading bullets into a total of one of the many incoming stalkers- for me to realize that I was not going to have enough bullets to take care of all of these. This wasn’t the empty and unsettling front hall of the Spencer Mansion; Raccoon City was quite literally going to eat me alive if I didn’t do something besides mow down my problems.

With haste, I managed to maneuver Claire between her assailants, being caught once or twice but breathlessly finding my way from screen to life-threatening screen. As she held her side and ducked through an alleyway toward the gates that would lead to my hopeful salvation, I already had marveled at the memories I had from the last few minutes: losing poor Robert Kendo in his gun shop as zombies swarmed him from the window, being cornered in a too-tight alleyway and worrying that it may be the last of my already dismal moments, and even the fact that Claire was giving an indication of being wounded without my having to go into the inventory screen- all of it wrapped me in the immersion of this desperate slog to try to find salvation and a moment to breathe.

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As Claire slipped through another thick metal door, I started to wonder if the police station that Leon had shouted for her to meet him at even existed anymore. The city was in shambles and given that there had never been a view into Raccoon City proper before, it was possible the entire adventure was going to be Claire and Leon ducking from street to street to find an escape. This place seemed more open, though. Something seemed calm, though not safe by any means. My friend and I went quiet, as did the couple in the room with us. I made Claire descend a staircase, going under some bridge. It seemed safer than traveling in the open and to my relief, it was devoid of any un-life.

I stopped to look at the other people in the room.

“Maybe you’re almost there?”
“If you take another hit, you’re probably dead.”
“Wow, this is intense…”

No one really seemed sure what was going to happen next. I was resolved to find some safety- and a place to save because I could not take any more of the stress let alone have to relive it. Claire marched up an opposing set of stairs back to the surface, and I braced myself for another mad dash.

There it was.

The Raccoon City Police Department.

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I stood outside for a brief second to take in the victory that I had reached the massive double doors to what I knew was temporary safety. At the shouting of “GO GO GO” from the room, Claire lunged into the building, leaving the intense struggle through the streets of Raccoon City to dive deeper into the incidents that would bring her to be my favorite survival horror character in gaming to date.

I’m anticipating the remake of Resident Evil 2 this Friday so strongly because the opening sequence of the original was one of the best and most engaging I had experienced up to that point. I fell in love with the characters, the environment, and the mounds of atmosphere that the game set its foundation upon. Having played the one-shot demo of the new game, I sincerely believe it has a lot of potential to rouse those emotions in me again. As a longtime gamer, I’m looking forward to that. Those feelings were the reason I’ve been a gamer for so long, and Resident Evil 2 has been set into an unshakeable display case in my heart as one of my all-time favorite titles.

Any readers else looking forward to this remake as much as I am? Any memories or hopes for the series should this remake do as well as it’s shaping up to? Feel free to let me know in the comments or on Twitter, and I look forward to seeing you all again once I come up for air once Resident Evil 2 releases!

– Matt (a.k.a. The3rdPlayer)