Wednesday, January 27, 2016

2015 - A Life & Game Review

I'm trying to think back on the games of 2015 and I'm struggling. In February, I moved from Maryland to Hawaii. I bought Tales of Hearts R for the trip, but technically that was a 2014 release. Even still, I ended up going absolutely head first into Pokémon Y (again) and to some extents Alpha Sapphire. Tales of Hearts just didn't hold my attention. The "Tales" series seems to be hit or miss for me - I love some of them, but others bore me. Either way, none of these games came out in 2015. So what the hell did I play in 2015? Looking back, there really weren't that many new titles in my house.

The Bunker Hill Bros played the hell out of some Dragon Ball XenoVerse which is a great game, but not Game of the Year material. I will never forget the rise of (custom character) Potatta and her domination over this game. I was supposed to join the Deez in Star Wars Battlefront but I ended up flaking out and walking away from the purchase. I got Disgaea 5 for my birthday in October, but for the first time ever - a Disgaea game did not hold my attention for much longer than a week. I got much more into a play of Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness earlier in the year- also not a 2015 game.

Flipping through the internet, I see a lot of talk about Fallout 4, The Witcher 3, Metal Gear Solid 5 and even Bloodborne. Surprisingly, all of these were on my "I want to buy" list but none of them were purchased. Particularly surprising is Bloodborne, because I held it in my hands at least ten times and put it back on the shelf - including the day I bought Dragon Ball XenoVerse. I don't really have a lot of excuses for this. I suppose money has been relatively tight, but more so I've just found my large library of older games has really gotten me through the year. When Fallout 4 launched I realized I never fully explored or beaten Fallout: New Vegas and so I loaded her up instead of spending $60. Similarly, when Bloodborne was tantalizing me, I did another playthrough of Dark Souls II. Such was life in 2015 for me.

The only 2015 titles I can think of that I picked up and really sank my teeth into are Final Fantasy Record Keeper and Xenoblade Chronicles X. It feels severely unfair to slap either one with "Game of the Year" title when I really didn't play any other 2015 launch titles to any great extent. It also makes me feel guilty giving Xenoblade the high honors because the only other time I've posted a Game of the Year it was for 2012 and Xenoblade Chronicles won that award.

So let me tell you about the two games I did play to some great extent. 


Final Fantasy Record Keeper is a free-to-play iOS and Android game. It's honestly the first mobile game I've ever enjoyed and endorsed. I know part of that stems from my love for old Final Fantasy games, to which Record Keeper gives much fan service. However, it's been more than just a passing fancy. I play Record Keeper every single day. I'm sometimes overwhelmed at the level of strategy and planning the game takes, but it's the cute SNES-style sprites and the level of challenge the game brings to the table that keeps me coming back. 

The game is at its core an All-Star Final Fantasy Battle game. You collect characters from every Final Fantasy title and equip them with equipment and skills to do combat with various monsters and bosses from each title. Although each character can only have 2 abilities equipped at any given time, the battle system itself most resembles Final Fantasy IV and VI. As of today there are roughly 90 characters to collect, level and utilize to complete new events and dungeons. Events come once a week and new dungeons are added twice a month. 

Like most online, money-driven games it does suffer from a steady power creep. I worked extremely hard for about six months to be able to steadily 100% every event that came along. I finally felt like I was on top of the world and could conquer any challenge. Then a new difficulty was released and I was knocked so hard off my pedestal that I felt like I had just been fooling myself into thinking I was the very best like no one ever was. While there are cons to a steady power creep (like invalidating your best arsenal of relic weapons when new, better ones arrive) I like to think that it will keep the game fresh and keep me driven to take my team to new levels. 

Final Fantasy Record Keeper is easily the best mobile game I've ever played.

Xenoblade Chronicles X is overwhelming. Based entirely on my unendingly positive experience with its predecessor in 2012 and well into 2013, I picked up Xenoblade CX the day it was released and I'm still playing it today. I've sank about 60 hours into this game and I'm only on Chapter 6 of 12. The amount of content this game throws in your face is truly amazing. Simply exploring this beautiful, exquisitely detailed, alien planet will probably keep me entertained for another 60 hours easily.

Speaking honestly, during my first hour with the game I felt very skeptical. The custom created "main" character is an awkward, silent protagonist in an age of voice acted cutscenes. The very concept has made me question whether Cloud will translate very well into the Final Fantasy VII Remake - or whether a game like Chrono Trigger should ever be brought into the current generation. However, Xenoblade CX pulls this off pretty well with player input answers that lead you to believe he is participating in conversations (silently). I also wasn't entirely sold on the combat and its utter lack of Monado, but ultimately I'm finding it to be a much deeper combat system than its predecessor.

After that initial adjustment - the realization that no, this is not Xenoblade Chronicles that you remember, but something new entirely - the game just goes into full bloom, in my opinion. There are a ton of playable characters to get to know. There is - what feels like - a never ending list of side-quests to pursue (600, I believe is the official estimate). The "mission structure" to the story is the perfect balance between encouraging you to continue the story, but also allowing you to pause and take in the world at your own pace.

In Xenoblade Chronicles, I remember wanting to stop and get to know everyone and do every side-quest, but the story itself pushed a sense of urgency. It was difficult to justify hanging out in one place for 40 hours just to build local affinity when your [insert plot device] was in desperate need of your help. Xenoblade Chronicles X solves this problem by taking the plot away from character driven narrative and making you feel like you are actually building a new world on the planet Mira. Each side-quest, mission and affinity mission all feels like one more step in establishing humanity's place on this new mysterious world and I absolutely love it. 

With a new console on the horizon, Xenoblade Chronicles X will likely be my all time favorite Wii U release - much like Xenoblade Chronicles is my favorite Wii title ever played. It has breathed new life into a system that mostly my children were dominating until now. 


PS - Let me know what games you think I really missed out on in 2015!

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