2014: Ahhhh! (Too Much To Play)

Some big life events happened for me this year, and none of them were really all that good. I won’t go into details since I like to keep those sorts of things off of this site, but given those events it’s very surprising that I managed to play as many new games this year as I did. In fact I probably tried to play too many, because most of the games that I picked up near the end of the year I haven’t been able to spend as much time with as I would have liked. Regardless, there have been some real gems this year that are well worth talking about. More long form write-ups are still coming for several of these, but for now I’ll briefly mention everything I played that came out this year and point out the highlights.

Soul Sacrifice Delta (Vita)
I’ve extolled the virtues of Soul Sacrifice several times at this point, namely in my 2013 year end post, and my articles for both the original Soul Sacrifice and Delta itself. I won’t restate every point that I’ve made, but if you like hunting action games and have been ignoring Soul Sacrifice, you are doing yourself a great disservice. The game itself is not as gruesome as much of the key art would have you believe, and the story is simply miles beyond the laughable stories (when there are any present at all) found in most other hunting action games. I never thought a game in this genre would be able to bring me to tears, but Soul Sacrifice Delta managed to do just that with its writing. Soul Sacrifice is generally not as dynamic as some of its older brothers in the genre, but there is still plenty of depth to be found if you only look for it. Whereas I did the bare minimum to get through the story in the first Soul Sacrifice, I found myself exploring different builds and even getting some online play in during my time with Delta.

Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes (PS4)
This was probably one of the more polarizing games that I played this year, for two major reasons: The price of the game for its length, and the story. I didn’t necessarily mind the price for the length, mostly because I am terrible at Metal Gear games even though I like to play them. So it takes me at least twice as long to get through any part of one as it would take your average person. I got plenty of hours out of this title between all of the various missions, in fact I didn’t even manage to complete them all. I did share in the problems that many had with the sudden jump in seriousness of the story though. I firmly believe that Metal Gear games are supposed to have a wacky story, full of improbable and outlandish events. Ground Zeroes seemed to be slowly trying to step away from that, and into something much more shocking and gritty. Despite that, I had a ton of fun with this game mostly due to the even further modernization of the somewhat awkward Metal Gear series mechanics and controls. It also has me really looking forward to seeing what The Phantom Pain will have to offer.

Theatrhyhtm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call (3DS)
I was late to the part with the original Theatrhythm, but I did end up playing it and really enjoying it as a nostalgic trip through the Final Fantasy series in particular as opposed to it being a rhythm game (I like them well enough, I’ve just never been particularly good at them). My only complaint about the first game was that it was a little light on content, so when I heard that Curtain Call was really going to up that, I was sold. The ability to play the game with buttons instead of only the stylus was also a big selling point for me. The Quest Medleys were a huge source of entertainment for me over the previous game’s Chaos Shrine, though fairly quickly the songs started getting to a level that I couldn’t really keep up with consistently (I just didn’t put in enough practice to be able to take on almost any song on the highest difficulty). I even managed to play a little bit of online versus mode, though not surprisingly everyone I played was far better at the game than I was. Either way, this one improved leaps and bounds over the original, had almost every Final Fantasy series song you could want if you count the DLC (and even some songs that weren’t necessarily from the Final Fantasy series), and is certainly an all around great title for a Final Fantasy or rhythm game fan to have.

Ultra Street Fighter IV (PS3/XBox 360)
With each iteration of Street Fighter IV since Super, I’ve bought it telling myself that I was really going to get myself up to the level I was at back in the Street Fighter II days. Well that hasn’t happened yet, and it certainly did not really happen with Ultra either. I won’t pretend that I keep abreast of every single change from version to version like the hardcore fighting game fans do these days, I mostly just track the general system changes as well as those to my character of choice (Chun Li). Since Ultra is likely to be the last major iteration of SFIV, perhaps I’ll manage to put some more time into getting decent at it before SFV hits.

Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth (3DS)
I came into Persona Q not having any idea what I would think about it. I have a history with and quite like the Persona series, but I’d never played a single Etrian Odyssey game ever. I knew what they were about, but I’d never had much experience with dungeon crawlers in general. Maybe that’s why Persona Q ended up being one of the most pleasant surprises for me this year. Not only did I end up enjoying the dungeon crawling quite a bit (though it certainly did get frustrating at times), but the game’s story ended up being pretty good despite it being crafted around needing to bring the Persona 3 and Persona 4 casts together. I plan on writing about this game in more detail at some point, so I will just say that I would highly recommend this to any Persona fan that is not afraid of a dungeon crawler or any dungeon crawler fan that doesn’t mind the story aspects of Persona.

Zelda Musou/Hyrule Warriors (Wii U)
This was my other big surprise of the year. Unlike Persona Q, I bought Zelda Musou thinking I knew exactly what to expect: A typical Musou game with a Zelda skin that I would spend a handful of hours on and probably lose interest. And this is coming from a person who generally tends to really enjoy the franchise-based Musou games. What I ended up getting was sort of in line with what I was expecting, but had a way nicer code of fan service and extras on it than I was expecting. Let’s be honest: If you’re not a Zelda fan then there is little in this title for you. It thrives on nostalgia of past Zelda games and knowledge of the characters and franchise. Without that, it’s just another Musou game, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The game’s life is being greatly extended by reasonably priced and sometimes free DLC, and it has a unique Adventure mode that really plays to those who have been around long enough to experience the original Legend of Zelda game. My only regret with this title is that there is no online multi-player, but I was lucky enough to have a couch co-op partner throughout much of my experience with the game. Even though I’ve gotten most of what I wanted to out of this game, I still do come back to it from time to time. This is really how a franchise Musou game should be done.

Persona 4 The Ultimax Ultra Suplex Hold/Persona 4 Arena Ultimax (PS3)
I played the original Persona 4 Arena game a good amount and really enjoyed it, though like most fighting games these days I didn’t put the time in to get really good. I really liked how substantial the story mode was, but having to re-tread the exact same events but with a different character each time started to drive me crazy after awhile. While I admit I only bought Ultimax as soon as I did to have something new to use my Persona Arena PS3/PS4 stick with, I did end up liking the way they handled the new story mode quite a bit better. It still has its problems (You have to play through it as P4 characters first, and then it is later recycled from the P3 characters points of view), but at least you aren’t going through the same sequence of events with each and every character this time. The re-balancing seemed to work out quite well, but as I mentioned above I just have not put a significant amount of time into it. I hope to spend more time with it one of these days, but by then the amount of people playing it online will have likely dropped off. Anyway, it’s about what you would expect from an incremental update to a fighting game.

Super Smash Bros. For Nintendo 3DS (3DS)
I was fairly excited that Nintendo was finally making a portable version of Smash Bros., but it released rather unfortunately close to the next two games on this list, resulting it me not spending a fraction of the time with it that I might have otherwise. That aside though, it really is exactly what a portable Smash Bros. game should be. Despite people apparently breaking their 3DS analog pads while playing this game, I never broke anything or had any control issues playing this on my 3DS. There are perhaps even too many things to do in this game, which is obviously a great problem to have. I would not hesitate to recommend this to anyone who is interested in playing a Smash Bros. game on the go, though in the end it seems as though I went back to my comfort zone with the console version.

Bayonetta 2 (Wii U)
I had discovered the first Bayonetta game quite some time after its initial release, but there were still a few years between when I finished it and when this one came out. Given how much I loved the first game, I really had high expectations for the sequel. You can read about my thoughts in more detail on the article I did on this game here, but let’s just say it managed to surpass my expectations by quite a bit. It’s everything that the first sequel in a young franchise should be: Everything that made the first game so great but taken up several degrees, and a handful of new ideas as well. If I had to give a “game of the year” title to any game on this list, it goes here without a doubt. I played a little bit of the online mode (it’s fairly limited), and haven’t even touched the packaged version of the original Bayonetta that also comes with this game. The story mode alone was enough put this one up at the top for me, cementing that Bayonetta is really the top of the heap when it comes to “stylish action” games.

Monster Hunter 4G/Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (3DS)
In my 2013 year end post from last year I talked about how I had really high hopes for Monster Hunter 4, but ultimately I didn’t end up putting a lot of time into it, and experienced the same sort of quick burnout that I did with Monster Hunter 3G. If 4G proved anything to me, it was that that had everything to do with timing. I didn’t quite hit the 200 hour mark on 4G, but I came pretty close. And a large amount of that time was spent working on content that was available in the original 4, but I just wasn’t ready to put the time into it at that point. This is also the first Monster Hunter G-series game that I made it all the way up to the highest level of G rank in, which was a very thrilling and challenging experience. This game showed me that despite what I suspected, maybe I’m not done with Monster Hunter just yet after all. Though I do worry that Capcom will not have any new and innovative places to go when it comes time for Monster Hunter 5. If not for Bayonetta 2, this one might have taken my game of the year.

Phantasy Star Nova (Vita)
I got into Phantasy Star Online 2 when it came out on the Vita, but there was a lot to take in. I felt like it was harder to take my time and really figure things out in an online game, so I ended up putting it down with the intention of coming back to it later (I haven’t yet). Phantasy Star Nova did me a pretty big favor in that it borrows basically the same systems that Phantasy Star Online 2 uses, but places it in into a single player (or local multi-player if you really want to) game that is a little bit more story focused. The obvious downside is that it is meant to be a single player version of Phantasy Star Online, and why would anyone want that? Well one of my biggest frustrations with PSO2 is that though it was on a portable system, I had to play it only at home due to not having a particularly reliable way of having Internet connectivity on the go. While some of the fun of not having true multi-player may be gone, the AI partners are actually good, and now I can play on my commute to and from work. It certainly isn’t the best PSO-based game to come along, but it may yet serve as a gateway to get me back to PSO2.

Bio Hazard/Resident Evil HD Remaster (PS3)
Having recently played through the Gamecube REmake, I knew that I was going to basically be getting a nicer looking version of that title. While that was enough to justify a purchase for me, I was also looking forward to seeing what the new control scheme had to offer. I’ve always been able to manage with the old tank controls, but I never did get very proficient with them. I haven’t even finished one play through yet, but I’m happy to report that the new control scheme alone makes it worthwhile. Despite the popular opinion among the good REmake players being that it makes the game far too easy, perhaps that’s exactly what I needed. I still do question why I bought this PS3 version with a PS4 version on the horizon, but I’m certainly having fun with it anyway.

Guilty Gear Xrd -Sign- (PS4)
I have almost no history with the Guilty Gear series, and had already proven at this point that I don’t have enough time to get into the other fighting games that I had bought this year. So why did I buy Guilty Gear Xrd at launch? Who knows, maybe I just wanted to get into it right at the beginning, or maybe I’m just not very good at figuring out what I SHOULD be spending my money on these days. Either way, I’ve played a decent amount of it at this point but am still trying to get my head around all of the many little systems that exist within Guilty Gear. For someone who is used to the Street Fighter series, it’s a little bit intimidating to take in. I’m going to keep pressing forward on this in between other games though, and see if I can at least get decent at this game. The Guilty Gear series has always interested me, so there’s no time like the present to get into it.

Super Smash Bros. For Wii U (Wii U)
Within the first couple of weeks of owning this game I had already put more time into it than I had the 3DS version up until this point. This was most likely because I had a regular online partner to play with, though the rest probably has to do with the experience of playing Smash on a big screen. I’ve unlocked everything and have completed a lot of events and challenges, and I’m certainly not done with the game yet. It’s a very nice title to use to break up monotony of other games that I might be playing, and so I usually don’t put hours into it at a time. This is the way I’ve always played Smash Bros. games though, so it’s not too surprising that I’d continue on like this.

There are also a couple of other games I bought this year that are worth mentioning, though I haven’t gotten much or any time to play them yet. Psycho Break/The Evil Within I’ve actually had since launch, and have not even put it into my PS4 once. It came out when I was in the depths of my re-obsession with Monster Hunter, so it will likely get some play time early on in 2015. I also spent a good amount of time with the Final Fantasy Explorers demo, as well as a little bit more with the full version. I don’t feel like I can really talk about it very well yet, but I suspect it’s going to end up as one of those middle of the road hunting games that I complete the main story in and don’t really revisit again. I’ve always liked the classic Final Fantasy job system though, which is really the only thing that this game sold itself to me on.

I think that the lesson I’ve learned this year is that I should perhaps spend a little bit more time actually completing the games that I buy when I do buy them (though that’s hard with things like fighting games that don’t have a clear path to completion), and maybe not buy everything that remotely peaks my interest right away (which I obviously did in the later half of the year). In 2015 I’m going to try to have a much bigger focus on completion and writing about the things I’m playing in a more timely fashion. The trick is really going to be remembering how much I really do like writing about things for this site to pull myself out of the depths of the things that happened to me in 2014, and just begin to move on.