Previously: My 2010 Games of the Year Runners Up
While the focus this week is on 2010 games, I do want to take a day to talk about older games that I only got around to playing in this past year.
The World Ends With You
2010 was a bit of a rough year for JRPGs. Final Fantasy 13 was a weird, disappointing letdown (albeit one that got under my skin for a period of time – 1, 2, 3). Resonance of Fate was better, but still didn’t really stand out. I can hardly remember what the story was about or who the characters were. I haven’t gotten to Dragon Quest 9 yet.
But I did end up playing The World Ends With You. I had a great time with it. It has a fun, action-packed, multi-tasking optional combat system that makes brilliant use of the entirety of the DS – buttons to control the top screen, touch-gestures to control the other. Extensive customizability and progression via its pin system. (You equip a number of pins – each pin corresponds to an attack that has a specific gesture associated with it – which gain experience and level up and evolve.) It does a fantastic job of world-building – that a rendering of contemporary Shibuya that feels crowded and vibrant and alive, done on the DS, is a pretty amazing feat. And despite starring a mopey teenaged loner, the story and characters are quite well done too.
The other great JRPG I played this year. I’d had a false start or two via emulators, but this year, I finally played the real thing on the DS. It’s a brilliant game, one lives up to its reputation. If only watching the ongoing Giant Bomb Endurance Run wasn’t so painful.
Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes
A fast-moving, turn-based, versus puzzle game with RPG elements and snappy touch controls. That sounds great! And it is! While the story is a throwaway, the gameplay delivers.
Another old game that I finally gave a try. I’m still not actually very far into it (it’s a big game), but I can already see why people love it, and why they were so nervous about Human Revolutions. That first Liberty Island level is a real gem. I have an affection for games like this that are dedicated to providing a strong sandbox. The levels are broad with lots of paths to choose from. Between skills and enhancements and equipment, there are lots of different ways to build a character and overcome a given obstacle.
Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime
A funny, enthusiastic game with surprisingly expansive gameplay. It starts as a simple action game, but it keeps building on its mechanics, leading to these epic, strategic boss battles featuring giant tanks firing customizable ammunition, manned by programmable AI companion characters, where the core skills the game has been teaching along the way are useful. It’s such a pleasing game, and I’m really glad I got to play it.
You can read more of my thoughts about Rocket Slime here.
This was the year I finally got into Civ 4. After a few false starts spent learning some important lessons about the mechanics, I got into an epic game playing as the Khmer. The thing that sticks most in my mind about the game is that it had a narrative to it. Grand strategy games can feel like a slog, but this time it felt like there was a story being written, with movement and a real arc to it.
The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion
This was also the year I finally got hooked on Oblivion. I bought the game once when it first came out, but my PC didn’t run it well, and it left me cold, mechanically. I’d keep getting lost in an endless sprawl of quests and in the minutiae of the leveling system. This year, I finally through a dozen or so mods into it, and came out with something I quite enjoyed.
I reduced the level-scaling of enemies, which made the world feel more rational Why should all the wolves disappear and bandits start wearing fancy obsidian armor, just because I’ve gotten more powerful? It also, more importantly, made the world feel more dangerous and threatening. Not only did this make exploration more interesting, forcing on-the-fly risk assessment (is that giant enemy crab too much for me to handle?) it also helped keep me on task. I’m less likely to wander off the path and explore that random cave if there’s a decent chance that something in that cave is going to tear me to bits.
I also modded the skill system so that, essentially, I didn’t have to worry about it. All the leveling and stat growth just happens in the background, without the quirks of the default system. And I added in some other convenience mods – chief among them an inter-dimensional basement connected to all the purchasable houses, so that I a central repository to store my stuff in.
I still haven’t actually made it very far in the game, all things considered, but this attempt has been the most successful and enjoyable one yet, and I’m finally seeing what the appeal is of Oblivion and other games of its ilk.