2013: A Year Reborn

2013 has been a bit of a strange year for me. It’s the second year in a row that a particular set of personal issues have come to light, but it’s also been a year of fairly great and interesting discoveries in the gaming world. I haven’t played enough games that actually came out this year to make this into your typical “personal game of the year” post. As anyone who has read even a little bit of this site can probably guess, I’m constantly struggling to balance my gaming time between retro and modern games. That makes keeping up with the hot games of the year not always an easy thing to do. However I do want to briefly touch on the few games I did play that qualify.

    Soul Sacrifice

Games in the “hunting action” genre are certainly becoming a dime a dozen in Japan, but since I’m a Monster Hunter enthusiast I like to at least learn a little bit about each one. Normally I don’t necessarily purchase them right away due to either a price tag that I feel is too high for my level of interest, or just a lack of interest in the particular title in general. After feeling slighted by God Eater Burst some time early, I’ve become a little wary of new hunting games. However, Soul Sacrifice did all of the right things to get my attention in a good way. It had a very different aesthetic from any of its contemporaries, and it seemed to be using a battle system based more around magic than melee combat (though some of that magic certainly takes the form of melee weapons). And with famed creator Keiji Inafune’s name attached to it, I felt like I wanted to give this game a chance. In fact it’s one of the titles that finally made me buy a Vita!

Soul Sacrifice ended up ranking just beneath the grandfather (Phantasy Star Online series) and eldest grand son (Monster Hunter series) of the hunting genre. Its aesthetic and story telling ended up hitting the mark in a better way than I ever thought it could, the boss difficulty was just right, and the character customization was outwardly simple with a great level of depth beneath the surface. It also found great ways to cut back on grinding and non-boss enemy farming that its elders could greatly learn from. As a result of all of these things, I felt like I got a lot of mileage out of Soul Sacrifice in less than half of of the time found on my typical Monster Hunter game clock.

My only regret is that I didn’t get a chance to play Soul Sacrifice online very much. That was more due to time issues in my life at that point instead of anything to do with the game though. I was able to farm perfectly well with an AI partner in most cases though, without feeling like I was wasting a ton of time that could have been better spent playing online. I’ll certainly be picking up Soul Sacrifice Delta in 2014, and hopefully fitting in more online play than before!

    Phantasy Star Online 2

Here is the second game that made me buy a Vita! I played a lot of the original Phantasy Star Online on the Dreamcast back in its heyday (sadly not online, but that’s a story for another day), so I was naturally very excited to see a proper sequel (the PSP games have been close, but tend to come up a little bit short for me). Like many I was also weary about the free to play model at first, but those worries were proven to be unfounded once I started playing the game. It certainly felt like a more expansive Phantasy Star Online in every way I could have imagined. I am sad to say that due to the aforementioned time issues in my life at that point and the fact that it required a persistent online connection (I tend to play most of my portable games on my daily train commute), I haven’t put nearly as much time into this game as I assumed I would. Also there’s the issue of having played some more dynamic games (Monster Hunter) in the hunting genre, which the original Phantasy Star Online arguably started, since those Dreamcast days.

It doesn’t lessen the warm fuzzies that I feel for PSO of old, it does make a new iteration seem a little bit less shiny. What nostalgia didn’t necessarily remind me of was how repetitious going through an area in PSO was, and still is in PSO 2. Even much more so than a Monster Hunter game. While I recognize that PSO 2 does a few things to alleviate that feeling, such as specific ongoing tasks to achieve within the individual missions, it didn’t always feel like enough to keep me wanting to come back frequently. I do hope to come back to this game and put in a good bit more time, but as you’ll soon read there is another MMO eating up my time at the moment.

    Shin Megami Tensei IV

Picking up this game at launch was a bit unlike my usual behavior. I haven’t significantly dabbled in the main Shin Megami Tensei series, and typically when tackling a well established series I like to start from the beginning. Why did I not do that this time? Maybe because I just wanted something new to play on the 3DS, or maybe because I was afraid of the famed blistering difficulty on the very early entries. Either way, I’m very glad that I made an exception to my rule here. If not for the next entry in this list, this most certainly would have been my favorite new game that I played this year.

Even though I haven’t played many of the Shin Megami Tensei games, I knew what to expect going into this one. While I didn’t necessarily want the ridiculous difficulty of the earlier entries, I definitely didn’t want this new entry to be dumbed down for casual players (since it was on a portable system). I didn’t get that at all: What I got was a relatively old fashioned Shin Megami Tensei game with some more modern trappings and conveniences. In other words, the best thing I could have possibly hoped for. Even regular enemy encounters are incredibly challenging at first, until you learn the games systems and how to properly compose a party of demons (once you get past negotiating with them to even get them in your party in the first place). At that point the game becomes a very enjoyable, but still challenging and frustrating at times, romp through a few different amazing settings.

This game’s highlight was by far the story though. It kept me wanting to continue trying to get through even more challenging areas that might have otherwise made me put down the game for a few days. I had heard that the story telling in the Shin Megami Tensei series has always been great, and playing this game definitely made me want to revisit previous games at some point for the story alone. I can’t recommend this game enough to anyone who isn’t a afraid of a challenging RPG that requires you to learn about the game’s systems to progress.

    Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

A Realm Reborn has been one of my biggest gaming surprises in quite some time. Let me start by saying that I do not have much MMO experience at all. I never played even a single minute of Final Fantasy XI (though I’ve seen some videos), so I have absolutely no basis of comparison there. I did play a fairly solid couple of months on World of Warcraft earlier this year, though I never found myself enjoying it all that much. I also did not play the original Final Fantasy XIV (prior to the “A Realm Reborn” subtitle) on the PC, though I heard nothing but terrible things from everyone who even tried. For all of those reasons, I wasn’t even sure that I would want to play the re-worked version of Final Fantasy XIV at all when it was announced. It did interest me that it was coming out for the Playstation 3 as well (part of the reason I didn’t enjoy WoW is that I just don’t like playing games on PC so much), but I was certainly still on the fence. When Square Enix announced they would be taking beta applications for PS3 players as well, I decided to apply. In fact my wife and I both got in shortly before open beta, and I don’t think either of us have looked back since.

I’m still not entirely sure exactly why I’m so into FFXIV when I wasn’t too interested in WoW at all. It certainly has nicer graphics (even on the PS3), better music, and arguably a better story. Since this MMO is in its infancy when compared to WoW, you can hardly compared the size of the two game worlds. However despite being so much smaller in size, Eorzea feels alive in a way that the game world in WoW never did to me. I certainly recognize that WoW does a lot of things better than FFXIV does, but none of that really matters to me. I know that FFXIV will continue to evolve over time, just like WoW did.

In fact FFXIV has not only enthralled me by just being the game it is, but it’s also reignited my interest in going back and playing older games in the Final Fantasy series. It references older FF games just the right amount to still feel like its existence doesn’t depend on them. There will be many aspects of this game’s story that will be big nostalgia trips for long time fans of the series. I would recommend this game to anyone who is looking for either a satisfying MMO or a satisfying Final Fantasy experience (but is still open minded toward MMOs). If I had to declare a game of the year, this would no doubt be it. You can definitely expect to see me write more about this game in the future.

    Monster Hunter 4

I’ve written a post about my feelings pre and post release for this game, so I won’t rehash all of those here. I’ll just say that it ended up falling somewhere in the middle of each of the ends of my potential expectations. While it wasn’t really disappointing, it didn’t re-ignite my Monster Hunter interest like I was hoping it might. Despite that, I have logged somewhere around 80 hours on this game as of the time of writing this post. Most of that has been single player time (I’ve finished the main story quests and grinded a lot for different armors and weapons), but I have done a fair amount of online play. I certainly plan to do more, as I would really like to experience some of the high rank content that isn’t available at all in single player. I’m sure this isn’t the last you’ll see me write about this game, but this wouldn’t have been my favorite game this year even apart from Final Fantasy XIV.

Just yesterday I finally bought Super Mario 3D World and Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds as well. I feel unqualified to talk about those at this moment though, given that I’ve only played a couple of hours of each of them. There should be no doubt that I will at least write a post about each one of them once I’ve gotten further in.

Despite not having played too many new, or for that matter nearly as many retro games as I wanted to this year, it’s ending with a sense of hope (and I’m also playing Dark Souls at the moment, so that’s really saying something). At this moment I feel like I can get through a lot more games this year, so that I can ultimately write about most of them here! Happy New Year everyone!