Hello! It is me, Luna “Naalune” Luna, and in my opinion, 2019 was a pretty solid year for games. Definitely not the best recent year, but it was nowhere near bad. And now that it’s coming to an end, every self-respecting person who talks about video games at all has probably catalogued their favorite games of the year and broadcasted them somewhere on the internet. I am one of those people. I have already posted this list unceremoniously on my Twitter. However, I have not gone in-depth explaining WHY I picked those games, and now is my chance to do so. Without further ado; here are my top 5 games of this last year.
Skeith here. I’m less poetic than Naa, but I’ll try my best to form an opening paragraph of my own. Personally, I think 2019 was an amazing year for games overall, one of the best in recent years, in fact. Especially for my little niche corner of gaming. Several games that came out this year are some of my favorites of all time actually, and I have played a lot of games. Narrowing it down to a top 5 is hard, but let me attempt to anyway.
Naa’s #5. Pokémon Shield
Here comes a brand new world, a step into a place you’ve never been.
Not exactly the… least controversial pick. The one thing most people know about Pokémon Shield (and it’s mostly identical sister game, Pokémon Sword) is that it was INCREDIBLY controversial in the days leading up to its release. I believe most of that has cooled down by now, but for months it was heated, and generally very unpleasant. All of that almost dissuaded me from buying the game, but I ended up getting it anyway, and I’m glad I did.
What Pokémon Shield lacks in story, it makes up for with fantastic gameplay that’s easily the best the series has ever been. Never before have I finished a Pokémon game and immediately wanted to replay it, but Shield managed. (not that I have replayed it yet, but I want toooo…) With a fantastic mix of an accessible EXP system, an area that exists entirely to catch basically whatever Pokémon you want very early on, and an amazing aesthetic filled with charm, Pokémon Shield is without a doubt one of my favorite games in this series.
Skeith’s #5 Ciconia No Naku Koro Ni
All in the name of guiding humanity down the right path.
Ryuukishi’s When They Cry visual novel series is a mixed franchise for me. I could never really get into Higurashi, but I greatly enjoyed the second half of Umineko.
And then Ciconia came out, and I loved Ciconia. Got it on release day for the sole purpose of being able to discuss stuff with friends about it.
Which leads me into a difficult position. Because of the nature of Visual Novels and When They Cry especially I cannot speak much about it because it’s meant to be experienced in a way where you know as little as possible.
So let me talk about it anyway, in the most vague way I can without spoiling much.
The characters who currently have focus are all great. The main character Miyao is wonderful. I love his faces. The story focuses on the perspectives of teenage super soldiers made to fight a war that they want no part in and as a Real Robot anime fan this was right up my alley with its style of storytelling.
The music is fantastic as well. Ciconia and Umineko share at least one composer so far, and while Umineko currently has a better soundtrack, I think Ciconia’s is great and fits the mood perfectly. Apocalypse Ciconia is such an amazing song and I find myself listening to it time and time again.
You may have noticed that I have been saying “so far” and “currently” several times. That is because Ciconia isn’t done yet. The game shall be four episodes long and only the first has been released so far. Thus, my opinion on it is currently biased on the high of excitement for the upcoming episodes and what I think will happen. However, I shall stand by this being one of my best experiences of 2019 and shall continue to hope I can say that about 2020 as well.
Naa’s #4. Astral Chain
This could be the end of time, this could be the end of me.
I consider myself a casual fan of the work of PlatinumGames. The only other games of theirs that I’ve played to completion are Metal Gear Rising and NieR:Automata. But I’ve played enough to know that they make good action games, so to see they were making a new game for Switch was very exciting to me, and it absolutely met my expectations.
Astral Chain’s nuanced and unique combat system is nothing like any game I’ve played before. It’s clunky at first, very much so, but once you get used to it (and you will, fairly quickly) it feels absolutely incredible. Aside from the combat, the investigation segments break up the gameplay really well, do wonders for pacing, and are a good opportunity to bask in Naoya Yokoyama’s fantastic environmental design. I do have a lot of issues with the game, but the things I love far outweigh the flaws.
Skeith’s #4. Super Robot Wars T
Super Robot. We are fighting. Super Robot. Tread on the Tiger’s Tail.
This year we were greeted with the newest installment in the Super Robot Wars series of SRPGs. If you haven’t heard of Super Robot Wars, boy will you have your mind blown if you look it up.
Super Robot Wars T brings together 25 different anime into a beautiful crossover a mayhem, explosions, and VN cutscenes. The classic Super Robot Wars formula of pretending all anime take place in the same world at the same time is put to great use with the game’s plot of a dark age of war turning into a golden age of hope.
That last thing I said about a golden age is both literal and metaphorical. That is literally the plot of the game, but I believe it applies to the roster as well. No anime like Gurren Lagann, Code Geass, or Rebuild of Evangelion are in this game at all. In fact, there is only one 2010s anime in the game and only one 2000s anime. Both of which are used to demonstrate how poor and hateful the world has become. Nearly the entirety of the roster is 70s-80s anime, with a bit of 90s sprinkled here and there. A true Golden Age anime experience.
The game has gotten a bit of flack for reusing assets from SRW Z3 and SRW V. However, I disagree with judging the game based on this. If these animations are still beautiful looking and serve their purpose, why should they be replaced every installment? And it’s not like the game doesn’t have plenty of new animations. I love seeing the New Arhan utterly decimate foes.
All in all, if you like the SRPG genre at all, get Super Robot Wars T for the Nintendo Switch or PS4. Or get Fire Emblem as Naa will probably recommend below. However, this game has Cowboy Bebop.
Naa’s #3. Hypnospace Outlaw
Y2K… you let me down, now
I didn’t really expect all that much out of Hypnospace Outlaw, it seemed like just a fun romp through a 90s-styled internet, but it’s so much more than that. Hypnospace Outlaw managed to make an alternate history 90s internet one of the best settings I’ve ever seen in a game. So much of the game feels real, I often forgot I was even playing a game and not just browsing the internet. Every character feels like a Real Person who would be on the internet.
The puzzles are fantastic too. Hypnospace Outlaw is a detective game at its core, the basic premise of the game is that you’re an internet moderator, trying to find harassment, illegal activity, copyright infringement… that kind of stuff. With this premise, you end up needing to find where these rule-breakers are yourself, getting only a basic idea of what page they’re on or who they are. The puzzles end up devolving into frantically searching through seemingly-related terms just praying that they’ll lead to what you want. And I adore it. But if you get truly stuck, there’s a built-in hints page to nudge you in the right direction.
There’s a really good narrative too! What starts out as a comedic parody of 90s internet becomes a tragedy, bad things happening to people who don’t deserve it, all caused by someone who made some stupid decisions but was never really a bad person themselves. By the end of the game, I felt terrible for literally every important character, and the ending made me cry. (not that that’s impressive… I cry at a lot of games, but Still) If any of this sounds appealing, I cannot recommend Hypnospace Outlaw enough.
Skeith’s # 3. Judgment
These eyes of mine aren’t the best judge of character.
There are a lot of Yakuza games now. A lot. I have seven Yakuza games downloaded onto my PS4 now, and they’re all good. I hold strong to the belief that there are no bad Yakuza games, just that some are better than others. Speaking of better than others, I love Judgment, or as it’s called it Japan: Judge Eyes. I personally think Judge Eyes is a better title myself.
The game is technically a spin off of the Yakuza series, however it still takes place in good old familiar Kamurocho and the gameplay is what you’ve come to expect from this series: a good old 3D beat em up style game with fantastic controls.
What separates Judgment from the other games in the series for me personally, is the story and the characters. Especially, the characters. For as blasphemous as this may sound, I have trouble following the plot and keeping track of who characters are in main series Yakuza. I usually can only focus on Kiryu’s personal journey in those games. Judgement in contrast kept my interest the whole way through
I think the scenario of playing as a detective in Kamurocho as opposed to playing as an ex-Yakuza member who has to deal with the various family shenanigans is what got me fully hooked on the game compared to the others.
In terms of difficulty, the Yakuza series has been on a downward decline since Yakuza 6. The games have been getting easier and could easily be described as baby-like. Judgment’s difficulty is thankfully higher than the past three years’ entries in the series. While I only died like three or four times in Judgment, that is a step in the right direction. Anything other than beating the final boss in ten seconds in Kiwami 2 is a step in the right direction.
I don’t have much to go into detail about with Judgment sadly, for as much as I like it, it is just another Yakuza game. There’s not a lot to say about the series other than it’s really good and you should play it.
Naa’s #2: Sayonara Wild Hearts
And it’s late nights, and it’s Game Boys, and it’s bright lights, and it’s synth noise
Sayonara Wild Hearts is a pop album video game. No, that doesn’t mean it’s a video game that happens to use a pop album as its soundtrack, everything about the game, from its gameplay to its visuals, are perfectly in-tune with the pop album aesthetic it’s going for. But yes, it does use a pop album as its soundtrack, and it’s a real good one.
It’s not really a rhythm game per-se. The gameplay is tied to the music, but not really in the sense of a traditional rhythm game. The best genre description I can give it is auto-runner, but it often seamlessly shifts into other genres, bullet hell… FPS… even Panzer Dragoon-styled shooting, it’s all there.
When I say the gameplay is tied to the music, I mean a lot of things. For example, a lot of the levels are structured like songs. Like the first vocal stage Begin Again. The level consists of fighting the first of five bosses, the Dancing Devils, a biker gang consisting of three people. For each of the three, there’s a verse and a chorus, for the verse, you chase them through the streets on your own motorcycle. But when the chorus comes around, the ground splits open and you fly through the newly opened ravine to continue chasing them down, and once you catch them, you go to the next one, following the exact same formula.
The gameplay is tied to the music in other ways too. Take one of my favorite levels, Parallel Worlds. The stage has a gimmick where it shifts between parallel versions of itself, every shift being accompanied by an audible snap. At first, this seemed very difficult, almost based entirely around guesswork. Until I noticed the very obvious pattern in the music, which was telling me about the pattern I was supposed to be following in the gameplay. As soon as I stopped thinking and just followed the music, it became a breeze, and a really satisfying one at that.
I first beat the game in October, as of this writing (late November) I have played it six times. One of those times was the day after I beat it the first time. The game being about an hour long makes it incredibly replayable, both to go for high scores and to just enjoy the game again. Sayonara Wild Hearts has become one of my favorite games of all time, I’d highly recommend it to everyone who likes pop music in any form. And really, how can you pass up a game with a cast existing of entirely masked biker lesbians?
Skeith’s #2 Ys IX: Monstrum Nox
And yet, you keep travelling. Why do you remain an adventurer?
This game isn’t in English yet. You’re going to be seeing loads of people put it on their best games of [whatever] lists, but I played it in Japanese, I enjoyed it, so I’m putting it on my best of 2019 list. That’s how this is going to work, go import it!
Anyway, Ys IX is fantastic. As far as action-adventure games go, you can’t get much better. As per Ys standard the game stars Adol Cristin. For once he hasn’t wrecked a boat, he’s been arrested and is trapped by a mysterious force in a prison city.
The gameplay engine is recycled from Ys VIII, however the gameplay has been refined to the point where just walking around is an amazingly fun time, while additional features like wall running, gliding, and shadow dive making exploring the city and navigating dungeons a slick journey.
In Ys VIII there really weren’t any actually dungeons beside like two, it was just exploring an island. Which it did great, however I do think I prefer Ys IX’s structure of a few field areas that lead into dungeons.
The music in the game is amazing. Falcom has always excelled in making great soundtracks. Ys VIII probably wins overall for best soundtrack, but IX is a rockin’ good time throughout, especially the dungeon themes.
If the game has any major flaws, it’s the normal mode is too easy, especially for boss fights. If you want the best experience from the game and the bosses, make sure you play it on Hard or above.
On a final note, White Cat is amazing. Buy the game when it’s eventually localized just for her if you have too.
Naa’s #1. Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Reach for my hand, I’ll soar away.
…Yeah, Skeith predicted this, as did just about everyone who knows me, but good lord I adore Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Before playing it, I wouldn’t really have considered myself a Fire Emblem fan. I played about half of Awakening and hated it, played most of Blazing Blade and a bit of Echoes and liked those, but still wasn’t really a fan of the series as a whole. But Three Houses won me over. I fell completely in love with it.
Three Houses has a story with three main routes. The first half of each route is mostly the same, just with a different main cast depending on which house you picked, but the second half is basically completely different in each route. Each route reveals more of a story where the concepts of “right” and “wrong” don’t exist. Every single character has good reasons for doing what they’re doing, but does that justify their often horrible actions? Well, that’s up to you, the game doesn’t really take a stance one way or the other.
The cast is one of the most human and realistically written I’ve ever seen, with every single character having both strengths and flaws. No one is perfect, but no one is a heartless pure evil villain either. One of my absolute favorite characters is Sylvain, a flirty womanizer who seems to near-constantly have nothing on his mind but flirting with women. I despise this type of character, but Sylvain is so complex and well-written that they managed to make me love him anyway. It’s almost sort of upsetting, but I appreciate it nonetheless. There’s also lots of excellent portrayals of mental illness, with some… notable exceptions, but nothing is perfect.
My favorite of the routes has to be Azure Moon, the Blue Lions house route. The route mostly centers around the rise and fall of Dimitri, the leader of the Blue Lions house, as well as my favorite character in the game. His arc is so well done. I knew exactly how it was going to go, just because it’s pretty predictable, but it still managed to get a strong emotional reaction out of me just because of how well it’s written. Dimitri is the kind of character that’s written so well it makes me jealous that I can’t write that well. Blue Lions has my favorite cast overall too, with many of my favorites like Ashe, Felix, and Sylvain. The relationship between Mercedes and Annette is adorable as well.
The other two routes are also amazing, each one making me question the things I thought I knew about each major faction more and more. Like I said, there’s no right or wrong in this story once you know everything. Each route has a bittersweet ending. Sure, the side you picked won, but at what cost? Who did you have to hurt to get there? And what lurking problems are still left in the world? There’s no true ending route where everyone ends up happy either. No matter what you do, there will always be suffering.
I’m not much of an SRPG fan, but the gameplay is pretty good too. It’s definitely on the easy side, but the amount of customization for each character is unmatched by the rest of the series. Do you want to make Mercedes, a kind magic-using healer, a gauntlet and axe-wielder who focuses on beating people to death with her hands and axes? You can do that if you want, I don’t know why you would, but you could. (the actual classes that use those things can only be used by male characters unfortunately, but you don’t even need the class, she can just use them anyway and still be competent if you build her right.)
Honestly, my biggest issue with the game is the lack of LGBT+ representation. There’s a few characters who are bisexual options. (five female characters and… one male character? seriously?) But I don’t really see why they can’t just do it for everyone. This isn’t something that affects everyone, but as a lesbian, it affects me, and I found it rather upsetting that I couldn’t romance some of my favorite female characters.
I still adore the game overall though, easily one of my favorite games of all time. I did every route within like a month and spent 120 hours on it, never really getting bored. I plan on doing another playthrough soon as well, since they somewhat recently added a new unit to the Crimson Flower route who looks neat. That is literally my only reasoning for wanting to replay. I love this game.
Skeith’s #1. Shenmue 3
A Dragon will emerge from the earth. A Phoenix shall descend from above. In the midst of a pitch black night, a morning star will glisten alone.
18 years ago Ryo and Shenhua went into that cave to collect the magical sword. Now here we are in 2019, Shenmue 3 is out. The two have emerged from the cave.
Shenmue 3 is a complicated game. Not that the game itself is complex, but the emotions it makes me feel are.
While Shenmue 1 and 2 aimed to be technical marvels in graphics and ambition, Shenmue 3 opts to instead be very similar to the past two games. Graphically it looks like a remastered Dreamcast game, and in scope it’s nothing that hasn’t been done before. Even the way people talk is the same awkward, stilted way voice actors would speak in the Dreamcast era of gaming…..And that’s okay. What I wanted, for lack of a better phrase, was Shenmue. Instead of reaching for the stars and crashing, Suzuki made Shenmue 3 a cozy little game that fits in perfectly with the previous two games.
I love the way the game looks and plays. Walking around Bailu village is one of the most comfortable experiences I have ever had in my years of playing games. As I played through the game, the village felt more and more like a home to me. I cannot say that about many towns in video games.
I think a major part in making Bailu village feel so much like a home is a result of one of my favorite status quo changes in the series, Ryo and Shenhua living together. Let’s get this clear, no one in Shenmue speaks like a normal person, but Ryo especially doesn’t act like a human being. So having him live together with Shenhua, a girl his age who also doesn’t speak like an actual person makes for some of the sweetest interactions and chemistry I have ever seen in a video game. I was constantly looking forward to coming home at the end of each day in Shenmue 3 just to see Ryo and Shenhua talk before bed.
While I am a big advocate of how Shenmue and Yakuza should not be compared (the similarities between the two being about as strong as the similarities between Yakuza and Persona), Yakuza’s influence on Shenmue 3 is hard to deny.
QTEs are few and far between in Shenmue 3. Most combat in the game takes place in the game’s, er, combat. There is also much more combat than in previous games, it seems like a majority of people want to spar or attack Ryo now. The game even has you level up your health and attack via EXP now.
Minigames are also a feature I believe Yakuza influenced Shenmue with. Before the minigames were made to be as mundane as an actual part time job. Here in Shenmue 3 the minigames have been made more fast paced, with intense music to make the mundane tasks of chopping wood or catching chickens more entertaining.
Part time jobs in Shenmue 3 are something you’ll be doing more than ever in the series. While Shenmue 2 tried to have you need to spend money to pay for your room, by the time the game hit its second half you didn’t need money at all.
Shenmue 3 remedies this by having Ryo’s stamina decrease throughout the day due to hunger. You’ll be stopping at stores to buy food and such in Shenmue 3 more than the first two games could even imagine you doing. Then once you get used to working for money and getting food, the game throws in Shenmue 2’s rent mechanic, making you need to get even more money. Jobs and gambling become a much bigger necessity in 3 due to these factors.
There is however yet another good way to get money that I enjoy a lot. Collecting herbs. On the ground, throughout the game, are a plethora of herbs that you can sell in packs for money with better packs of herbs equaling more money. You can even get maps that show where some are. As someone who loves collectathon games, gathering herbs was a joy for me. (Just…..never go for all the herbs. Just get enough to become rich)
The final thing I really have to say about Shenmue 3 is the ending. I am currently running off the high that Shenmue 4 will happen and the ending will be worth it. However, if Shenmue 4 doesn’t happen within the next three to five years, I fear Shenmue 3 will sour as a result. However, as things stand now Shenmue 3 is my favorite game of 2019.
Luna here. There’s a few games I defintiely wish I could’ve put on this list. Luminous Avenger iX is a great but slightly disappointing followup to the fantastic Azure Striker Gunvolt 2, Code Vein is a game I have not finished but am enjoying a LOT so far, and Link’s Awakening is probably better than a few of the games I actually put on, but it’s a remake so I’d feel wrong putting it there.
Overall? Pretty solid year. Not as good as 2017 I’d say, but better than 2018 for sure. And 2020 is very exciting as well. There’s still some 2019 games I need to play too, like Sekiro and Devil May Cry 5, maybe those will be even better than the games already on my list, who knows! And maybe 2020 will have an even more solid top 5, again, who knows!
Skeith here again, as I stated above, I think 2019 was one of the best recent years for video games overall. Narrowing this down to just a top 5 was very hard. I had to not include games like Death Stranding, God Eater 3, and Atelier Ryza just because I had to find minor reasons not to include them on this list. Thank god for me that New Sakura Wars didn’t come out until after I began writing this, I would have put that here and have had to exclude even more games just for space.
And 2020 is looking to be just as good! I’d list off game releases coming in 2020, but there’s too many to count. Even the word 2020 has put many images of upcoming games into your mind, and I hope that year is just as good as this.