I’m not good at keeping lists of what media I experience as Rudie is, so if you want full accuracy, maybe check out his post. I try writing these things down in the Hobonichi Techo that I keep every year, but I don’t always remember to do that. But I do it enough that I think I can get a list going here, maybe. I also don’t keep track of when things are made, so this list might not be the actual games of 2019 itself as much as the ones I played.
Whatever, screw it, let’s go.
GotY #1 2019: Free Games
Much like Rudie already noted, the actual GotY for 2019 is just Free Videogames, or games that come either as part of a subscription you pay for anyway (PS+) or as part of a storefront trying to get people on board with them (Epic Game Store) or just parts of bundles you never knew you had. This year started out with me playing a lot of one of these and enjoying the hell out of it (Onrush) but also pondering if I ever would have paid for this. I don’t know that I would have, and that is kinda a problem.
Thinking about the value of games in 2019, in purely capital terms, is rough, because the entire industry is built around making money, but the way that seems most likely to get your new game noticed is by giving it away for free. This isn’t tenable. People are going to expect more and more free games (I am not alone in this; I’ve gotten every one of Epic’s freebies), but these games are not going to stop costing money to make. I have no solution for this, but it gives us a new way to dread the ever-approaching videogame crash of 20XX.
Onrush though? It’s pretty neat as an idea. It’s a race, but without a finish line most of the time. It’s also trying to figure out a way to make multiplayer Burnout work. It almost does, but not necessarily in a way that made me feel bad for not spending money on it.
This isn’t a game (or is it?) (no). It’s a tool for building things out of voxels and rendering them in pretty great ways. I spent a good couple of weeks messing around with it, making things like this:
But again, it’s free. I should probably figure out a way to pay someone for this.
Ace Combat 7
Ace Combat 7 was not free. You gotta pay to fly all these sweet gorgeous machines of death. You also gotta feel some degree of weird moral ambiguity for how much fun flying these products of the never-ending war technology machine is. Well, I do at least. Didn’t stop me from spending a lot of time doing just that, though. As usual, fictional places and such so you don’t have to feel too mad for the murder (in theory), but it’s hard to divorce that.
Still, it had been way too long since I spent time in an arcade jet simulator, and AC7 was pretty good for that.
Ranko Tsukigime’s Longest Day
Rudie has been telling me to play this for forever. It’s only a few hours long. I started playing it while trying to get an old PSP hacked. This was necessitated by me wanting to play Suikoden II, a game I bought from Sony that at one point could be played on the PSP, on my PSP. Sony gets in their own way a lot, especially with the PSP.
Ranko Tsukigime’s Longest Day is a really good argument for Grasshopper Manufacture being limited in what they can try to do. Small scale brings out good things in them. Making a kinda janky 2D Sonic game with a GHM plot worked way too well.
Kingdom Hearts 3
GotY #2 2019: Kingdom Hearts 3
Fuck it, if someone asks me what the Game of the Year for 2019 is, it’s Kingdom Hearts 3 for so many reasons, though only a few of them are the game itself. It’s fun as hell, a game about hitting buttons and making gorgeous shit happen on screen, held together by the usual Kingdom Hearts Nomura nonsense, but it’s comfortably executed in a way that puts a smile on my face.
But, in the year of our gamelord 2019, you can’t look at KH3 and not think about Disney. 2019 is probably the year of Disney, the year they basically took over our culture through making enough money to become an independent member of the UN if they wanted to. They streamed their ways into everyone’s houses for cheaper than everyone else (a side product of having so much money and such a deep back catalogue that they can take the L on profit for a second in this division).
And then they killed Star Wars. Well, OK, they didn’t (nobody can), but they found a way to make a Star Wars movie that made me long for the ambition of the prequels, even if those are really bad movies. And in light of Kingdom Hearts 3, Disney revealed that somehow Nomura is better at wrapping things up (while leaving the mandatory hooks for further story) than JJ Abrams.
Steins; Gate Elite
Oh hey, Steins; Gate is good, y’all, as long as you can put up with spending 30 hours with anime characters you might not like at all just to maybe think they are human. It’s awful! It’s great! It’s silly! Now with more anime.
Devil May Cry 5
Do you like Devil May Cry games? Like the real ones, not the one made by Ninja Theory? Because Capcom in 2019 decided to show people they could still reliably make Capcom games, and DMC5 is that, with just enough experimentation to make it not feel wrote. It doesn’t rock the DMC boat, but it didn’t need to. It just had to remind us the boat is still there, and like AC7, it did that. As a bonus, it also let us watch the cutscenes with the mocap actors, which includes some great cardboard action filmmaking.
Every year that I get one of these, I am going to put it on the list. This year, I got two, the amazingly named Ketsui Deathtiny, and ESP Ra.De Ψ . Both of these are amazing ports, full of the kind of dedication to getting people to enjoy this sometimes intentional obscurantist genre of games. These are clearly products of love, because there is no way they are making enough money to justify the effort that goes into these. M2 does a lot of other stuff (more on this later), so I guess that is how they fund it.
Of the two, ESP Ra.De Ψ is the my preference, both for the aesthetics (Japanese high school kids on the run with psychic powers vs. robotic militarism) and the actual mechanics, but that should not take away from someone trying Ketsui Deathtiny if they are interested. Ketsui is a much less forgiving game overall, but it still is great stuff, and the included M2 mode makes it much more playable for everyone. M2 wants people to see an play these games, so including the ability to access the secret final boss of Ketsui (which in the original release required 1CC-ing both the first and second loops of the game) is solid. The music alone makes that fight worth seeing.
Earth Defense Force 5
It’s more online EDF, but this time with giant frogs and weird astronauts and you basically fight God at the end. I love it.
Final Fantasy XIV
Look, if I made one mistake in 2019 (don’t worry, I amde way more than one), it was starting up FFXIV again. I restarted the thing. I lost 200 hours to it. I still didn’t get to the expansion that came out this year that everyone raved about. I eventually unsubscribed to make myself play other games. FFXIV is great, but it’s great in a way that doesn’t let me play other stuff. I did this for myself. I did this for all of us.
GotY #3 2019: Shenmue
For a few months, Rudie and I joked about how Hinge Problems might just become a Shenmue fansite. The first game is that good. It’s amazing how a game came out so long ago built around specifically not saying what it is doing, and so many people (self included before this year) just completely missed it. It became memes, jokes, one liners, and it is only now, as a 38 year old man here on this Earth, that I finally got it. It made me cry. It’s so beautiful. We recorded a live episode about it and missed so much that we could record 3 more.
Yes, I get it, it came out in 1999 and is full of Dreamcast graphics and awkward voice acting and so much more. But before you start turning it into a joke, just think about how everything in this game was done with so much care and intention that they didn’t miss what they were doing. That kid that asks Ryo if he wants to wrestle? Sure, it seems awkard, but it shows how trusted and cared for Ryo is in his hometown that even the neighborhood kids like to play with him. The English voice acting is weird, but its a product of someone trying to communicate in a second language and not necessarily getting the tone. Play it in Japanese and this becomes clear.
It’s so fucking good, y’all. I could cry about how good this thing is.
Dragon Quest XI S
RPGs are meant for portable systems, at least in my life. I got so much further in this game than I did in the original release, and so many of the additions just make it smoother and lovelier of an experience. It’s hard if you want it to be, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s comfortng as fuck. In a just world, we would get a DQVII remake in this engine, but I know people would demand VIII instead and that makes me kinda sad.
GotY #4 2019: Death Stranding
Rudie and I spent like an hour talking about this game without talking about things in this game. The game itself is almost incidental, except it very much is not. Some reviewers thought the upside-down rainbows were a Pynchon reference (they are not, but you know, don’t actually read Gravity’s Rainbow before saying that or whatever), but the Pynchon feel is real, from dozens of tiny stories that could spawn whole conversations on their own to weird symbols based half in reality.
And the game itself seems like a joke about Walking Simulators, but it actually makes the act of walking mean something, or at least makes you think about it a little bit more than pressing a stick. It’s not QWOP, but it is difficult sometimes, and optimization is usually not this enjoyable.
And if you want a game to summarize this year and not talk about Disney, a game about “a guy who doesn’t want to be around other people working hard as fuck to make talking to each other possible over the internet powered by dead people” seems like a good place to start. Who even cares about the ending? (It’s fine.)
So the way M2 fund the ShotTriggers games is largely by handling ports fo older games for other companies. This led to them being largely responsible for the MegaDrive Mini, which is probably the best of these mini consoles that is never going to sell well in America, because Sega has never been as popular here and for some reason teh US one only includes the 3 button controllers. But the Japanese one has the full 6 button controllers AND M.U.S.H.A. so you should probably know what to do.
M.U.S.H.A. is a vertical shooter, part of the Aleste series, and it rules so much. I chose the word “rules” carefully there, because part of what makes this game so good is that the soundtrack is all late 80s Japanese speed metal, but through that sweet Yamaha FM synth, and it is fucking amazing. The game itself is pretty great, but the soundtrack?
It’s Pokemon. On the Switch. With only 400 monsters (this is still way too many) and some online multiplayer things that mostly work. I am mostly putting it here because for some reason it latched into my brain in ways that previous Pokemon games had not. I can blame this at least in part in having people I see regularly also playing it, so it makes me wonder what part of me playing games is just wishing for things that allow me to momentarily connect with other people. Yes, I might still be posting aboud Death Stranding.
SaGa: Scarlet Grace Ambitions
At this point, if you play RPGs and think about them, you probably have an opinion on Akitoshi Kawazu. The latest SaGa game isn’t going to change anyone’s mind about Kawazu, but for the people that like his stuff (hi), it’s great. Inscrutable mechanics and streamlined storytelling are core to the experience, but it all feels great, wrapped around a battle system with a perfect amount of strategy.
I never know if I am making the “right” decisison (in contrast, say, to so much BioWare stuff that telegraphs what the “good” and “evil” choices are). Sometimes I don’t even know I am making a decision, and the game just rolls with it. A lot of Kawazu’s stuff has felt like an attempt to convert TTRPG playing into a videogame in ways that eschew the Infinity Engine, and this continues that. I love it. I am only a few days into it. I don’t know when it will stop. It’s nice to feel like I have a decent DM watching over me, even when I am playing alone. This might get a retroactive GotY from me.