2019 was an unexpectedly slim year for me. Despite finally getting my hands on (and head in) a PlayStation VR – or perhaps because of it – most of my gaming was actually stuff I missed out on in recent years. Still, I did manage to play enough to fill out a Games-of-the-Year list, and this year even had a few surprises on it.
So without further ado, let’s get to my top 10 games of 2019:
10. Dead or Alive 6 – PS4, Xbox One, PC
This game actually projected to go higher on this list at the start of the year. The Evo 2018 playable demo had me genuinely excited, and as Day 0 Update listeners will know, had me more excited than the SoulCalibur VI demo from the same event. Unfortunately, a litany of unforced errors from Team Ninja (and all of the “Core Values” memes associated with one of them) put me off of the game considerably, and although DOA6 is still objectively a very good fighting game, too many things ended up getting in its way both from within and without to give it a higher spot on this list.
9. NHL 20 – PS4, Xbox One
The problem with NHL 20 has nothing to do with its level of quality at all, but the fact that it is an example of the age-old sports game stereotype of the same game being released each year. Its sheer level of quality is enough to put it at #9 on this list, and if you’re looking for a Hockey game that can take on just about any form you can imagine a Hockey game having, you can’t do any better than this. After the great strides Sean Ramjagsingh’s team made with last year’s game, it’s just a shame they were unable to follow up here. Of course, if that means avoiding an NHL 15-like debacle with the inevitable ninth-generation versions of the series, all is well and good.
8. Jupiter & Mars – PS4
I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of Jupiter & Mars when it was unveiled, but the first impression of a heavily stylized take on Ecco The Dolphin landed it a guaranteed spot on my radar, and I’m glad it did. Whether you have a PlayStation VR or not, you owe it to yourself to experience Tigertron’s trippy, environmentally-conscious, and thoroughly enjoyable dolphin adventure game.
7. Romancing SaGa 3 – PS4, Xbox One, PC, mobile
It feels weird including a game from 1995 on a list of 2019’s best games, but this is indeed Romancing SaGa 3’s North American debut, and it has been a long time coming. Being an old-school SaGa title, you can expect a host of different perspectives to the story, along with a battle system that set itself well apart from other turn-based fare at the time, and a masterful soundtrack courtesy of Kenji Ito. Fans of last year’s Octopath Traveler should take particular note, because that game shows its direct lineage to the SaGa titles of the 90s. Don’t miss out on this one.
6. Power Rangers: Battle For The Grid – PS4, Xbox One, PC
Good video games based on tokusatsu properties are few and far between. (The best one in recent memory being All Kamen Riders: Rider Generation 2 on the PSP, a fantastic beat-em-up well worth going out of your way to experience.) You can imagine my surprise, then, when the initially rough-looking Power Rangers: Battle For The Grid was revealed to the world from nWay, a relatively unknown developer in fighting game circles. In the end, thanks to the names that were consulted along the way, Battle For The Grid emerged as a pleasant surprise in 2019 with its 3-on-3 gameplay that is simultaneously methodical and uptempo – a combination that even top-tier fighting studios struggle to nail down at times.
5. Mortal Kombat 11 – PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC
From a design standpoint, the Netherrealm Studios era of Mortal Kombat has been one of vindication. Getting out from under the Midway umbrella has given Ed Boon the creative freedom to deliver deep, balanced, technically-sound fighting games that fans in the broader fighting game community long believed to be outside of MK’s scope. Mortal Kombat 11 follows up on the previous two games’ legacy in this regard, while replacing the fast-paced, offense-heavy, Ultimate MK3-inspired gameplay with a more controlled, tactical approach reminiscent of MKII. The only fly in the ointment is WB’s trademark approach to DLC and the live-service model, which can’t help but get in MK11’s way at every turn. This is a real shame, because the game beneath all of that is spectacular.
4. Fire Emblem: Three Houses – Switch
After the Wii’s Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, Nintendo kept the Fire Emblem series away from consoles for a time while Intelligent Systems experimented with it on the 3DS. What emerged from that were the franchise-redefining Awakening and Fates, which left no doubt that Fire Emblem’s return to consoles with Three Houses would be triumphant indeed. To be sure, Three Houses delivers on all of its promise, continuing the series’ rebirth with no end in sight.
This is my paragraph where I gush about Nihon Falcom’s epic Kiseki saga rolls on with Trails of Cold Steel III, and this installment sees a changing of the localization guard, with duties being taken over from Xseed Games by NIS America. Fortunately, due respect was paid to the previous work, and the nigh-seamless transition from Xseed to NISA is a testament to NISA’s efforts. Being the eighth installment of an ongoing story, Cold Steel III isn’t as approachable as some other titles in the series, but that doesn’t make it any less engaging or enjoyable to players who have made the investment. (ProTip: You should make the investment.)
2. Samurai Shodown – PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC
I’ve already posted a couple of fighting games on this list that overcame some unfortunate setbacks by their publishers and/or developers to find their way on here. Samurai Shodown, on the other hand, is what you get when no such setbacks must be weathered. Hidetoshi “Neo_G” Ishiwawa’s declaration to the world that he’s still one of the absolute top fighting game developers in the world was accompanied by a very community-friendly approach, which even included a launch period in which the first season pass was made available for free. When you pop the hood, Samurai Shodown is a tight, technical, and deeply strategic fighting game that ignores the modern logic in favor of a gameplay style that came right out of the 1990s, and it is the best fighting game of 2019 for it.
1. Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers – PS4, PC
It would be irresponsible to come in here simply saying that “Shadowbringers is a stellar continuation to an already stellar game,” because that would grossly discount what Naoki Yoshida and company have accomplished here. Shadowbringers outright refreshes an MMORPG that has been running strong for over six years in its current form, all while turning the entire canon onto its head and presenting some unique questions examining the age-old tropes of light and darkness as parallels to good and evil. The last few hours of the main quest are monumentally gripping, even if references to Sir Thomas More’s “Utopia” go over plenty of heads. Shadowbringers isn’t just a game worth returning to Final Fantasy XIV for if you’re a lapsed player, it’s a game worth starting your FFXIV journey for altogether.
So that’s it for my 2019 in gaming, and truth be told, I don’t have my usual insight into next year’s possibilities largely because it’s a console launch year, and a lot of the games that will likely end up populating my best of 2020 haven’t been announced yet. It’s hard to speculate when I don’t know what they’re going to be.
At any rate, I hope you’ve enjoyed the read. Here’s to a solid 2019 and hopefully a monumental 2020 in gaming.