The year 2016 managed to produce some serious surprises. For one thing, we managed to get not one, but TWO long awaited major titles (Final Fantasy XV and The Last Guardian) on the shelves after long delays and troubled development. Not only that, but both games actually managed to beat the odds and be of good quality! We also had the privilege of seeing Blizzard produce a brand new IP that convinced even the harshest multiplayer critics to give it a try.
And, of course, we had a slew of quality indie titles that caught the gaming world by surprise. From colorful sprite-based platformers (Owlboy), to morally-dubious CRPGs (Tyranny), to artsy action games with mysterious narratives (Inside), we had plenty of independent productions to enjoy. We also were shown that the JRPG is not only alive and kicking, but seems to be experiencing a revival of sorts, with the likes of Square Enix and Nihon Falcom releasing some quality titles to scratch your need for narrative-driven epics. With that said, here is my Top Ten list for the year (and number one will totally NOT surprise you).
10. Owlboy (PC)
This gorgeously sprite-rendered platformer, almost a decade in the making, once again proved that one does not need state of the art graphics or full voice audio to make an amazing experience, as long as it has a lot of heart and, above all, is FUN.
9. Tyranny (PC)
In their heyday, isometric CRPGs offered some of the best examples of storytelling and player choice. Tyranny uses those mechanics to put you in the thrall of a triumphant evil overlord as he works to subjugate and control his conquered territories. Will you try to be just and merciful? Or will you become a monster? The choice is all yours. Remember, lawful evil is STILL evil.
8. The King Of Fighters XIV (PS4)
After the extreme let-down that was Street Fighter V, this installment of the long-running King of Fighters franchise was a refreshing alternative to the content-starved SFV. An extensive roster, coupled with involved fighting mechanics and, yes, an actual arcade mode make this release a winner.
7. I Am Setsuna (PS4, PC)
It’s not perfect by any means, but this artsy JRPG from newcomers Tokyo RPG Factory showed how much heart and soul were contained in the JRPGs of yesteryear, and that with a little dedication and the right amount of creativity, that same heart can be rekindled and made relevant for a new generation.
6. Darkest Dungeon (PS4, Vita, PC)
Darkest Dungeon takes the oppressive aspects of roguelikes and combines them with a Lovecraftian colour and a sketchy Mike Mignola-inspired art direction that emphasizes the sheer insurmountable nature of your goal. You must send a party into the hellmouth, to their doom. And you must do it over, and over, and over again.
5. Inside (PS4, XB1, PC)
This stark and mysterious indie adventure, from the makers of Limbo, became an almost instant hit upon its release and for good reason. A compellingly strange yet familiar world, unique mind control mechanics, and a sparse yet suggestive narrative that stays in your mind long after you’ve finished playing.
4. Overwatch (PS4, XB1, PC)
Blizzard once again managed to knock it out of the park with this team-based shooter. Tight controls and amazingly fun gameplay, combined with colorful pixar-esque characters and a compelling sci-fi superhero universe, make this game a multiplayer delight with a long life ahead of it.
3. Battlefield 1 (PS4, XB1, PC)
The first World War was one of the most senseless orgies of bloodshed that humankind has ever seen, and EA DICE does a good job of emphasizing the gory and visceral nature of early 20th century combat. From firing across the trenches, to piloting biplanes and early German tanks, you will be knee deep in the mud and blood of mutual slaughter.
2. The Last Guardian (PS4)
Long in development, this Ueda/Team Ico project finally saw the light of day this year, and it is glorious. Your giant animal companion Trico is a sight to behold, and his uncanny intelligence and behavior can sometimes astound and confound the player. Combine this with the dream-like fantasy world and stark narrative that has come to be Ueda’s trademark, and you have a flawed but compelling masterpiece
1. The Legend of Heroes: Trails Of Cold Steel II (PS3, Vita)
Building on its fantastic predecessor, this installment of the criminally underrated Legend of Heroes franchise shows once again that Nihon Falcom are the kings of character development and effective world-building in JRPGs. You will grow to love the members of Class VII, and when their time together comes to an end, you may shed a tear right along with them.