My 2016 in Video Games

Hey, it’s 2017. The last year has been kind of oscillating between “bad” and “meh” and “shitty” but also sometimes “pretty good” and “life’s pretty okay”. So what’s the best way to look back on it without getting too personal?

Games of the Year! I’m going to mostly list games that has made an impact on me on 2016 instead of a list of quality games that are released this year (there’s a kajillion of them and I barely play them!).

The Big Throne

Ori and the Blind Forest

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I only started playing this during the December holiday season. There’s so many good, fantastic, beautiful things in it, I can’t even start counting. The gameplay and level design are perfect, the control is great (bless Ori’s fast walking speed) sans the need to press the Shift button for extended period of time (please have mercy on my pinky). The story is more a heartfelt fable than anything groundbreaking, but how it’s told is a beauty.

But my best takeaway from it is how easily Ori dies over and over and over again. Hit a spike, jump into a pool of poison, be destroyed by enemy’s projectiles. And he’ll still be back, kicking, and with every death I, or at least my fingers, learn more on how to handle the obstacle better. There’s something heartwarming in Ori’s many visceral deaths and all the dozens attempts he’ll endure again.

Deep Dark Marvellous

Sunless Sea + Zubmariner Expansion

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I greatly enjoyed the game back when it was released on early 2015, and when I dropped it in peace after two months or so of constant playing, I left a mid-game captain with a pretty good ship-weapon setup and nearly the whole map discovered. Around the middle of 2016, I started to miss its lively sombre atmosphere and its tongue-in-cheek narration of the dark, the unknown, and our special capability to screw ourselves up.

I continued on with my already pretty well-off captain, so I was spared the brutally slow (albeit still very interesting) early-game climb. The game was exactly what I needed at the time. It’s slow and foreboding while also being a friend. Time passed, audibly and crystal clear, but it felt meaningful when I looked back at how much I’ve gotten that run.

I started taking notes of cargoes and places and events and events requirements, which helped my management. But even with the ability to strategize–and this coming from someone who enjoys number-crunching–I still occasionally throw caution to the air and just go off on my own tangent. Embrace the fear, live with it, trade dagger looks with it. Take chances, be ready to screw your plans up. I love how the game nods along with it.

Generated Storytelling

The Sims 3

Nraas’s Story Progression mod is the absolute best thing to happen to The Sims 3. It helps raise the game’s otherwise arcade-ish simulation into something resembling a living neighbourhood of living sims. Every single dang time I get back there, the game just keeps surprising me at how many silly things sims can get themselves into, with minimal of intervention.

I’m surprised by how much the game remembers of a sim’s familial ties. With divorces and affairs and everything, my more prominent sim’s family tree is a spaghetti of connection to nearly everybody else in town. I was tickled to see my sim’s relationship panels being interspersed with uncles and cousins and even ghost great-grandfathers.

Heartwrench

The Final Station

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I got this as a review copy, which ends up being a blessing because otherwise I wouldn’t have discovered it, or worse, expect too much from it. It’s a little Russian arcade/survival-like zombie-like game, which doesn’t look much up front, but it has a lot of heart. You play as a simple train officer in a world newly ravaged by zombie-like monsters, going from cities to cities on the rails, saving people as you can, and going in and out of abandoned buildings while piecing together what happened there.

It’s short, and to be honest not entirely memorable. But the moments I had while playing it, my God, I remember how hard my heart would beat sometimes, just trying to save these strangers in my train. There were the little discoveries, the notes found on doors, the corpses in unlikely places, and the living humans I found hiding from or fighting the horrors. Its art style is minimalistic, but beautiful, enough for me to fully appreciate the world it’s presenting.

In a way that I’ve read another reviewer called it, it has one theme, and it’s riding it for all it’s worth. I find it perfect for what it wants to be, and I’m happy that what it wants to be is this small unforgiving journey instead of yet another arcade/action/survival game.

The Calm at the Eye of the Storm

Hyper Light Drifter

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2016 was a pretty bad year for me because I had a pretty terrible second and third semester in college. I wasn’t learning anything, the pressure was tough, and there were so many thoughts turning in my head I didn’t know how I managed. And then came the beautiful, quiet, relentless Hyper Light Drifter.

At its base it’s a twitchy, visceral action game. You have to be quick on your feet, deft with your controls. It takes concentration, luck, and instinct that you built up as you play. The result is a sort of flow state where I can get into the game without being disturbed by outside thoughts. But it won’t happen so smoothly if it wasn’t for the atmosphere. The music and the art are excellent and play well with each other.

I’ve talked to length about how I found relaxation through its adrenaline, how I found peace and quiet in its blood and action. What I haven’t mentioned was how much it helped me get through some rough spots in my life the last year. I didn’t play too much of it, but what I had was necessary.

I Did Not Expect to be So Emotionally Invested, but Here I Am

Mystic Messenger (Android / iPhone)

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Not the screenshot of the final game, which is a bit nicer, but I think it’s representative enough

(Ok, I admit I play this mostly on December ’16 and January ’17, but eh)

I’ll go on a limb and say I don’t usually like otome games, or even romance-based visual novels of any form. I started this for fun, because it’s free, because my friends play it, and I guess if I’m being capital H Honest, its anime boys are attractive. (There was a point when I thought pretty anime boys and dating sims are stupid and detrimental to society, but man, I was an asshole then, wasn’t I?).

Look at me now! I used to scoff at dating simulators, I used to look down at Korean drama and soap operas, but here I am destroying my ego. I love this lovingly created game, I love its many complicated characters. I go through everything for its plot, but I enjoy every bit of its banters. I’m also working on a critical in depth review of it, so, uhh, look forward to that?

Honourable Mentions

I don’t actually play too many games on 2016, due to some, uhh, academic slumps. But I enjoyed at least these:

  • Shadowrun Returns and Hong Kong are western RPGs based on the tabletop Shadowrun game. It has tactical gameplay and open specialization-centric skill-based character building, but I love it mostly for its story. I’d probably put it in the list above with more descriptions if I have the time, because it’s very good
  • Oxenfree, an adventure game with a ghost story about being teenagers, along with all the awkward conversations that come with it. The story isn’t as fantastic as it could be, but the voice acting is A+ and the conversations really make the game.
  • VA-11 Hall-A is a visual novel about being a bartender in a cyberpunk city. It’s nice and relaxing and you get to meet a lot of people
  • An Octave Higher is a visual novel about magic and, of all things, class issues, income inequality, and revolutions. It’s pretty good.
  • Momodora: Reverie under the Moonlight is a great, cute, unforgiving little metroidvania. I will never forgive it for that dangerous learning curve (must’ve spent two hours on the first area alone), but once I got the hang of it, it’s great.
  • Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Oh look, a AAA game in my list. I am unabashedly an Assassin’s Creed fan. I was excited for Black Flag back when it was released (when was that? 2014?), but let that excitement go because my computer couldn’t afford it at the time. I can now, and it’s everything that I wanted from a AAA pirate game with AC lore thrown in.
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