2019-12-22: 2019 in Review (games edition)

2019 is closing. Whew time flies.

From a personal perspective, I saw a pretty big uptick in streaming hours when I ended up leaving my full time job for some contract gigs and some personal project work. I don't really want to go into too much detail on that but I suppose that's the main event of the year. Everything else was caused by, or enabled by, that one decision. I really do value flexibility and wish I could get more of it from full time positions.

Anyway, on the gaming side of things (which is why anyone would ever read this blog, right?), I finished 60 of the things this year, 35 on stream. I was going to dump the whole list here but it's quite large. So I might just ruminate on a top 10. Not a top 10 games that came out this year, just the top 10 I played this year. "Top" may not even be right. "Most impactful"?

10.) Dungeon Explorer

I didn't stream this one, and I don't suspect it would have been a fun watch if I did. But Dungeon Explorer as a series always fascinated me and I finally dove into it this year. I beat Dungeon Explorer I and II for the TG-16, the SegaCD version, poked Crystal Beans, and started the DS version before dropping it as not at all related to the rest.

A neat little romp if you like Gauntlet. It was a big deal for me because it'd been on my to-play list for years.

9.) Final Fantasy: 4 Heroes of Light

I remember the tangible frustration I exuded when streaming this. 4HoL came so close to being good, and fell just woefully short. Its story was solid, its graphics cheeky and cute, the combat was different and unique, and I love job switching mechanics. But 4HoL struggled to hard to keep things simple that the player is left with no real agency.

In the end it stands out for what it could have been and not what it was.

8.) Brandish

I played this nearly 10 years ago and only got to the tower before giving up. This time around I played the PSP version and had a blast. This was my chill-out game during the stresses of Thanksgiving and I finished it in about four days. Once you get used to the wonky movement and turning, it flows so well. The dungeons are cleverly designed, combat flows smoothly, and there's enough variety to keep things from getting stale.

Big recommend here.

7.) Lennus 2

A surprising 5/5 pick for me. Lennus 2 is the sequel to the maligned Paladin's Quest, and truthfully I find both games to be very solid. Lennus and Lennus 2 eschew the usual MP and resource hoarding systems of most JRPGs by making spells consume HP, turning combat into a puzzle of consuming the least HP. In addition the element and mercenary systems give you great flexibility in kitting out your party to match how you like to play. The game's aesthetic is wild, the music is great, and the story in incredibly unique to the genre.

Lennus 2's only real crime is that the end is a bit too easy. Once you get your hands on Grava and Spela, you're invincible. A challenge play without them may be more fun than not.

6.) SaGa 2: Hihou Densetsu

The Nintendo DS remake of the original SaGa/Final Fantasy Legend II. It adds a ton of quality of life improvements and a really slick 3D battle interface. The characters are all cute, the story rehashed a bit to make for a deeper more memorable plot and experience, and the stat gain curves hammered out to prevent gotchas in the original like just not getting HP upgrades and being made of paper.

At its core it's the same game, though, and that's what makes it great. This is purely a fresh coat of paint and not a re-imagining or a reboot.

Honorable mention of SaGa 3: Jikuu no Hasha, which is the same thing but FFL3. It's hard to say which is better and my musing here applies to both.

5.) Shining the Holy Ark

The only Saturn game I've managed to get running well enough to play all the way through. Holy Ark is the masterful sequel to Shining in the Darkness. Its graphics are definitely dated, and its combat a bit slower than it should be, but it's charming and easy to play. The characters are memorable and you can freely swap your party at any time. The dungeons are atmospheric with each having a unique gimmick that makes them stand out.

If you can get it running and liked SitD, it's a must play.

4.) Final Fantasy VI

It took until 2019 to finally play it, but I did. This also finished out my Final Fantasy marathon that I started in uh... 2017. Everyone told me once I got out of World of Balance the game really opens up, and they were right. I was able to put aside my esper decision paralysis and my distaste at forced party lineups and push through, and was rewarded with a very enjoyable experience in the latter half of the game.

Not my absolute favorite of all time but it bumped a few rungs up in my FF Tier List.

3.) Etrian Odyssey IV

It's been a slow journey through the EO series. I've come a long way since bumbling my way through the original, for sure. EO4 strikes me as the best so far, and one of the few RPGs that managed to produce a plot twist in the form of not producing a plot twist. It eschewed the up-until-now reliable trope that everyone who was oh-so-helpful to you had their own agendas and would eventually stab you in the back.

Also as the first EO on the 3DS, it stands out in its graphical and music fidelity, and just generally makes for one of the most fun, purest dungeon crawler experiences I've had in some time. Its difficulty curve being smoothed out a bit versus prior titles, and its new overworld system, make it even easier to just get lost in this one.

2.) Chaos Seed

Chaos Seed wins the distinction of being the most unique game I've played this year. Combining Feng Shui, tower defense concepts before tower defense really existed, an action RPG combat system like Illusion of Gaia or Neugier, and a really mysterious and well-executed storyline, Chaos Seed is truly something different and special on the SNES.

A definite must-try. You'll love it or hate it after the first chapter.

1.) Chrono Cross

This is it... the big one... the game you play and remember forever. Chrono Cross just grabbed me, as evidenced by the post immediately before this being a 2,200 word love letter to the game. One of my few 10 out of 10s. Chrono Cross now holds the position of either my favorite of second favorite game of all time; I can't choose between it and Okami.

I could say so much but I say it there better, I think.

tags: year_in_review, dungeon_explorer, brandish, lennus, saga, shining, final_fantasy, etrian_odyssey, chaos_seed, chrono, rpg