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2018 In Review


Looking back on the year, there are some games that I will never understand. Some may think that this is because I am overly critical, and they are most likely correct in some regard. I am also extremely aware of my own tastes and I know that, when I am unable to understand a game, that likely means I cannot glean any particular pleasure satisfaction from it. So when writing this list, I have done so with some very specific criteria in mind: it is highly subjective and reflects the titles that I have played in 2018, which means it is ultimately limited in exposure and scope. However, the games featured also represent the sort of year that I have experienced- one where I have avoided major, landmark titles in favor of more niche experiences. Likewise, this will feature several titles that existed before 2018, and that's okay. I try to be as fiscally responsible as possible, which sometimes means not picking up games the day they release.

Lastly, I'm the sort of person who feels suspense in list form is a silly concept. If you'd like to hear my particular thoughts on any of these games, just type the name into your search bar:

Hyper Light Drifter
The Alliance Alive
Kingdom: Two Crowns
Cosmic Star Heroine
Hand of Fate 2
Etrian Odyssey V
Slap City
Hollow Knight

10 ) Crawl
In an age where party games have gone the way of Jackbox, this surprising, chunky, and raw roguelike took me by surprise in all the right ways. Crawl's macabre, yet simplistic aesthetic allows for ridiculously expressive animation that lends a great deal of personality to each enemy and player character. Its inventive premise- survive as long as you can while your friends possess monsters and traps in order to kill you- is simple enough to be understood, but it's paired with a complex and enjoyable customization system that allows for various builds and approaches. Sure, Crawl can be unfair at times, but all four players are always playing, which means there's always something to do, whether it's leveling up your monsters or dropping slimes into a room in order to impede player progress.

9 ) Hyper Light Drifter
Yes, Hyper Light Drifter is good. With the additional challenges that released with the Switch port, it has even more neat secrets to find and battles to fight. The game's wonderful aesthetics, pulsating soundtrack, and its precision combat that rewards a mixture of both ranged and melee approaches make this a title worth checking out, if only to take note of the more novel elements of game design. Even so, there's a bit too much wall hugging and awkward camera tricks to make this indie title feel flawless- or, at least, as flawless as some other titles that appear later on this list.

8 ) The Alliance Alive
Many enjoy the Role-playing genre due to the ability to watch the numbers predictably climb and to familiarize themselves with a small group of characters. FuRyu's The Alliance Alive is not like this, utilizing the groundwork established in their previous release The Legend of Legacy to enhance and complicate their combat system. With each of the impressively large main cast able to enter a number of different stances and distribute their experience into a variety of abilities, the possibilities are anything but straightforward. Add in some meaningful overworld exploration, a neat guild support system, and dungeons that seek to steadily enhance challenge with some of the most difficult enemies, and you have a 3DS classic that shouldn't be forgotten, despite its unfortunate obscurity.

7 ) Dandara
In terms of games feeling and doing something unique, Dandara takes the cake. This non-linear action platformer mixes claustrophobic movement area with all manner of enemies, each with their own attack and movement patterns. Dandara is a puzzle more than anything- how can one move throughout the environment without taking damage, but also firing back? Its dreamlike soundtrack and incredible boss battles only sweeten the deal, and it makes me excited to see what developer Long Hat House has in store for the future.

6 ) Kingdom: Two Crowns
Having actually played Kingdom for the first time very recently, the New Lands version of the game already had me excited for this co-operative, campaign-oriented sequel. However, the end result was even better than I had imagined- new tech trees, unit types, mounts, and aesthetic upgrades that offered the definitive mellow-yet-methodical kingdom simulator. Plus, winter doesn't last forever, which is pretty nice. The co-operative elements also allow for further strategy and planning, which is good, considering the endgame's brutal difficulty.

5 ) Cosmic Star Heroine
I finally got around to picking up Zeboyd Games' love letter to 16-bit RPGs, and I was not disappointed. As a huge fan of both Chrono Trigger and Phantasy Star, I can say with confidence that Cosmic Star Heroine is neither of these things- however, it doesn't have to be. This game feels as if it was developed alongside such classics, and features enough unique combat mechanics, charming characters and dialogue, and of course, a fabulous soundtrack to stand toe to toe with other classics. As far as independent titles go, Cosmic Star Heroine is one of the best examples of how to do nostalgia correct- by paying homage with aesthetics and offering up something entirely different.

4 ) Hand of Fate 2
When I attempt describing Hand of Fate to those unfamiliar, the best I can come up with is "card/board game-based rogue-lite." Hand of Fate utilizes all the best parts of a board game- the dice rolls, card draws, and square-by-square navigation- in order to create a variety of scenarios that are just structured enough to become familiar with. Still, these elements are shuffled together with a selection of the player's own choice of cards, which means anything can happen once a campaign has started. Fortunately, the game is topped off by a tight, committal combat system that breaks up some of the narrative turns and offers intense and thrilling challenge. While it may not be everyone's cup of tea, it is one of the most fascinating and different Role-playing games I've experienced in a while.

3 ) Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth
Although Nippon Ichi Software tried their hand- and succeeded- at a first-person dungeon crawler this year with Labyrinth of Refrain on Nintendo Switch, Atlus proves once again that their years of experience with Etrian Odyssey puts them leagues above the rest. With excellent pacing and new innovations to the map-making systems, EOV takes a step away from the more broken combinations of teams and focuses instead on crafting highly specialized characters well-equipped for certain scenarios. The puzzle mechanics found in each dungeon are also excellent, and boss battles are packed with neat gimmicks that can be circumvented through proper team-building and environmental manipulation. It's a classic Etrian Odyssey title, through and through, and with Nexus on the way in 2019, it's becoming harder and harder to say goodbye to this touchscreen-centric Role-playing series.

2 ) Slap City
If you had told me that I would be falling in love with not one, but two platform fighters this year, I would have questioned your sanity. However, the folks at Ludosity have crafted an immaculate Smash Bros-like game with Slap City. A crossover of the team's many franchises, you won't be able to find epic battles between Business Casual Man and Fishbunjin anywhere else. With all eight of its initial roster slots filled this year, I am eagerly anticipating more additions. Each Slap City character feels like a combination of the best traits of some Smash veterans, or a completely new and fantastic sort of character archetype. Its ludicrously low pricing only sweetens the deal, and makes me hope for some sort of console port so that more people can be exposed to this fighting masterpiece.

1 ) Hollow Knight
Hollow Knight is good. Actually, Hollow Knight is GREAT. It is quite possibly one of the most absurdly-priced games out there, offering hours of content featuring a massive world, intense boss fights, unique metroidvania mechanics, an amazing soundtrack, and lovely aesthetics. There is a great deal of enemy variety, and the objective of the game often changes in order to keep you on your toes. Whether you're hoarding money for a particularly expensive piece of equipment, attempting to transport a flower without getting touched, or liberating the dreaming spirits of Hollownest, there's something to do in Hollow Knight. You can try your hand at some brutal platforming, or test your mettle in the coliseum. You can fight mantises or bees. You can choose from a few endings, depending on how much of the game you think you can handle. It is an incredibly full-featured creature, and I had a delight giving it a go. Now, we await the DLC!

Of course, I usually do a little something extra for my year review. I like to choose a game of the year, something that truly lit up my life in all the best ways. The only problem is, I ended up playing a game that is scheduled for release in 2019, and it ended up being my game of the year for 2018. All I can do is list the name, and hope that you look forward to when the review embargo lifts, when I have the chance to share this magical title with you.

Game of the Year: YIIK: A Postmodern RPG


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