As the curtains close on another year of game releases, industry drama, and new console woes, I glance back at what I actually played in 2012. That’s the reason we’re all here after all: the games! So which titles will I recall with heart-melting fondness, and which will I scoff at well into the next generation?
*NOTE* This list is arranged by release date, NOT by best/worst.
Starting 2012 with Final Fantasy XIII-2 is like having a bowl of cigarette ashes for breakfast. Built on the foundation of its predecessor (which left many fans of the series scratching their head), Final Fantasy XIII-2‘s story was easily the game’s main downfall. Shoddy time travel story devices caused a vacuum of vagueness which expected the player to “just go with it” more than it gave back. Without a story to keep this mess above water, Final Fantasy XIII-2 limped along with only a bastardized monster-collection system to its name. When that system turned out to be an experiment in palette swapping, well… I stopped playing. This abomination rocked my faith in the future of Final Fantasy and Square Enix to its core.
Despite a lackluster story and crude graphics by this generation’s standards, I Am Alive was one of 2012′s most pleasant surprises for me. Tense climbing mechanics and a fast-paced combat system set it apart from other would-be survival horror titles. The thrill of rationing ammo and making split-second decisions hooked me in through the game’s massive and oppressive world. Regrettably (and ironically) I was playing I Am Alive when my fat PS3 kicked the bucket, so I never completed the game.
Journey proved that a game doesn’t need to be long to be epic, and doesn’t need to have earth-shattering graphics to be beautiful. In many ways it looked at our values when it comes to gaming, did the opposite, and still succeeded. There was no persistant interface pointing, showing, or telling — yet I was never lost. Multiplayer experiences were always pleasant — something I can say of few other games. It’s clear that thatgamecompany has a vision, and I can’t wait to see what else they create.
Xenoblade Chronicles made me believe that JRPGs still have a place in modern gaming, despite their struggle for relevance in this generation. While all the traditional elements were in place, Monolithsoft brought some amazing modernizations to the table. Astoundingly large maps filled with small bonuses for thorough explorers. An ocean of NPCs alive and connected through a streamlined quest system. Best of all, a team of developed characters who each fought in unique ways kept combat fresh and enjoyable . After this masterpiece I’ll be first in line for Monolithsoft’s next game.
If Capcom is good at anything it’s milking the wizened teat of an IP to the point of fatigue (Street Fighter excluded – we can always use more of those AM I RITE?). For that reason I was surprised to see the developer take a chance on a new IP: Dragon’s Dogma. I was even more surprised to see that the game successfully built upon the open-world RPG. The biggest innovation, the pawn system, turned a single player game into a very social experience. Sharing pawn information with IRL friends and on Twitter become a huge inspiration to get better gear, take on bigger foes, and well, just play more. While the game wasn’t perfect — I loathed the affinity system and nearly every NPC – I can’t wait to see where Capcom goes with the series. With a clearer vision Dragon’s Dogma could be an amazing franchise.
I bought a Vita this year and the first game I played on it was Gravity Rush. I admit I didn’t know a lot about the game when I bought it (I generally research games extensively) but Gravity Rush‘s French-inspired manga-esque art design was enough to sell me on it. It turns out under that flawless exterior, the game was actually quite charming. The main character is a sweetheart, and her companion is a talking cat. While the Vita-based combat system was a little iffy at times, when all the gryos were scoping in my favor it could be quite exhilarating: soaring down from tremendous heights to nail an enemy right in their glowing weakspot. While I never finished Gravity Rush, it was nice to see such a unique game come out of Japan, especially nowadays when the rush for westernization is causing too much homogenization for my liking.
Gungnir was another pleasant surprise this year, especially given its appearance on the PSP, a system long considered dead in the West. Unlike past Dept. Heaven titles, Gungnir toned the crazy down just enough. At its core, the game was a classic SRPG with just the right amount of innovation. Looting fallen enemies, acquiring strategic locations on the map, and an awesome team-attack system all helped keep combat enjoyable. The story wasn’t fabulous, but pulled some shocking twists that kept me guessing.
Oh, Tekken. I used to be good at Tekken, honest. But Tekken Tag Tournament 2 changed everything. Tag mechanics became a strategic battle in their own right, focusing on keeping juggles going, or avoiding them at the cost of some temporary damage. The added depth of strategy was further enhanced by an enormous roster of characters pushed to the limit with completely FREE DLC characters — did you hear that, Capcom?! FREE! While I may not have become much of a threat online, Tekken Tag 2 certainly showed me a whole new side to my favorite fighter.
Earlier in this post I mentioned that Japan’s desire to compete on the global gaming market has stunted some creativity. One game released in 2012 proves Japan still knows how to flex its crazy muscle: Tokyo Jungle. I’d like to call this game equal parts post-apocalyptia, rogue-like, and survival-horror but none of those labels do the game justice… Tokyo Jungle is true survival, as you struggle against the elements, other creatures and time itself. A single play through could last hours or mere moments, but was always unpredictable and entertaining (doubly so with local multiplayer). I hope this oddball’s mild success will encourage more developers to take chances creating games just as difficult to define.
After Gravity Rush, my Vita gathered dust. Once Persona 4 Golden was released, that dust was replaced with fingerprints. SO MANY FINGERPRINTS. I was once again absorbed in the pattern of dungeon crawling, school life, and maintaining social links. The game’s unobtrusive online functionality combined with the Vita’s social interactions created a whole new way to enjoy one of the best games of the last generation. Yes, Persona 4 Golden was a flawlessly executed combination of all that was great with the old, and all the comforts of modern gaming.
That’s it for games I actually invested enough hours in to discuss. At the end of 2011, I wrote a post predicting what titles I’d buy and I’d say my list was pretty close:
Oh, The Last Guardian… someday.
The Rest: DLC and Importing in 2012
My gaming experiences this year weren’t limited to only conventional releases – I also spent a ton of time with imported titles and even revisiting some older games.
When a handful of close Twitter friends decided to import Monster Hunter Portable 3rd, I threw in the towel on its localization and bought a copy as well. After the boiled down content of Monster Hunter Tri, Portable 3rd‘s rich array of weapons and monsters was a welcome change. Being able to transfer data between my PSP Go and PS3 was possibly the game’s greatest feature. I’ve already clocked over 400 hours into Monster Hunter Portable 3rd, both solo and playing with friends over ad-hoc.
I could write a book about my hatred for ad-hoc. Remember any science fiction movie where the main character(s) stumble upon glass tubes filled with disfigured clones begging for death? That’s kind what ad-hoc is. And that desire for death, painless or otherwise, is simply a result of spending too much time within its rotting womb. Did I just create an ad-hoc inception?
Anyway, after whetting my appetite with Portable 3rd, I’m throughly ready to repeat my exploits in Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. The Wii U title touts similar portable functionality and — best of all — its own multiplayer interface!
My Dark Souls save data was one of the worst casualties of PS3 Fatgate 2012. When the Artorias of the Abyss DLC was released, I had to play it. That meant creating a whole new character and working my way through most of the game. To keep things interesting I suppressed my level as much as I could, and ended up experiencing the game in a whole new way.
I’ll never forget my epic battle at SL 12 with the Stray Demon… My first attempts resulted in almost immediate death. Constant tweaking brought me closer and closer until one of the hardest fought yet most rewarding victories was finally achieved.
By the time I made my way up to the DLC, I’d nearly forgotten about it!
Phew, so that’s how I spent 2012 playing games. Looking back I have to admit this year held some memorable titles — a number of which began to experiment with different social functionality. To my surprise most of them actually weren’t that annoying. I’m also quite happy that Xenoblade Chronicles lived up to the hype.
Look forward to my list of games I plan on buying next year. Here’s hoping they’ll have the same impact as this year’s games!