In the same general way we feel about our own human race, we tend to believe that video games are always getting “better” in a very vague sense of the word. A lifetime of accepting the science of evolution has put it into our brains that everything is destined for an eternal, glowing climb into the sky until it becomes some indescribable force that is just too “good” to be imagined.
No, evolution does not work that way. If this were the case, then your all-time favorite video games would be those released in 2014 as they are naturally “better” than the ones that came before, am I right? Your favorite Mario game is Super Mario 3D World. Your favorite Final Fantasy game is Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Your favorite Grand Theft Auto game is Watch_Dogs, and your favorite Assassin’s Creed game is Unity.
Are video games always getting “better?” No! What’s my point? I played a lot of great games from years past in 2014! Here’s what I enjoyed. Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with more talk of Suikoden. These are games I played all the way through for the first time.
If you want a game that is going to thrash your mind a bit, play LA-MULANA. This “metroidvania” is one of the few in the genre that has a chance of standing up to the namesake of both “Metroid” and “Castlevania,” and it challenges those inspirations with a great sense of graphical and musical style. LA-MULANA is a platformer fan’s dream come true, mostly because it was made by an indie team that made its dreams come true, and it only gets better as our hero uncovers more hidden powers and becomes more mobile.
This is a deep game, one which will take many long, trying hours to beat. There is so much hidden lore, so many hidden passages, and so many secrets that you’ll have quite a hard time taking it all in. A punishing cast of enemies compound on this difficulty, making it one of the hardest games in recent memory. Like most classic action games though, once you learn the patterns and are in the right mindset, it becomes a cinch to beat.
Getting into that mindset without turning it off or destroying the controller proves to be the challenge with this one.
As for those puzzles, woo boy, I won’t beat you up for using a walkthrough in a few places. I don’t beat myself either as the puzzles are more painful. Look out for LA-MULANA on the PS Vita early in 2015 if you don’t yet have it for the PC or Wii.
Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies
I already wrote about blasting through this one back in our Summer Blues post in August, but I enjoyed this so much, I just have to mention it again. I wrapped up playing the single player campaign at roughly 90 hours, making it far and away the game I sunk the most time into this year. One can only grind on Liquid Metal Slimes so much before the burn of repetition starts to set in.
I really wish that Nintendo hadn’t shut down the Wi-Fi service for all of its DS games earlier this year. Dragon Quest IX was easily the biggest casualty of the bunch as the post-game components were so integral to its critical success. Diving into random dungeons, trading treasure maps with others, doing daily quests, and uncovering impossibly excellent gear. All lost to history now, and I didn’t get to enjoy any minute of it.
One can chalk that up as a shame for me missing out and a blessing for allowing me to move on to something else.
Dragon Quest IX was instrumental in reigniting my passion for JRPGs this year, and the fact that it was handheld allowed me to use my long train commute time to get reacquainted with the genre. Thanks to the Nintendo 3DS, I am a JRPG fan once again like I haven’t been since the early days of the PlayStation 2. Dragon Quest IX is also a sweet game despite having its connectivity elements ripped from it, ranking pretty high on my all time list… maybe a top 20 tier game.
Tucked away somewhere in between Bravely Default and Dragon Quest IX, I was able to blast through Final Fantasy Tactics Director Yasumi Matsuno’s pocket sized JRPG Crimson Shroud… twice. I already gave it a huge write up in the review, so you can read my deeper thoughts on it there. In essence though, I called it one of the best “dollars per entertainment” value you can buy on the console thanks to its $8 price tag.
As much as I am loving the stream of wonderful games into the Nintendo 3DS, I am having a hard time settling on an absolute favorite. When I think about it though, this might be it. I played it twice, and I fully intend to take a third stab at it some time in the future. This goes against games I really enjoyed like Persona Q, Etrian Odyssey IV, and Fire Emblem: Awakening, all of which I don’t think I’ll be playing again.
You know me. I love games that last and inspire me to want to play them again in the future. Crimson Shroud does that better the rest of the competition on the Nintendo 3DS, and Yasumi Matsuno’s smallest game might ultimately be the one I revisit the most… besides Final Fantasy Tactics of course.
Persona 4 Golden
Prior to 2014, I had only dabbled in the PlayStation 2 version of Persona 4. My mindset at the time was that I did not want to sink another 70 to 80 hours into another Shin Megami Tensei game so quickly after beating Persona 3, so my time with it came to a quicker end than I had wished.
Luckily, the biggest change of 2014 to my gaming habits was finally picking up a Vita, mostly for the reasons of following in the footsteps of my Nintendo 3DS and taking my JRPG habits on the move with me. Persona 4 Golden was the second JRPG I played through on the system, following Ys: Memories of Celceta, but in my mind it was number one. Taking this game on the move proved to be a life-saver as I found a far more productive way to enjoy everything it has to offer with very little to absolute zero sacrifice.
I even enjoyed it from the couch despite my 46-inch television mere feet away.
Persona 4 is just a perfect game with a great cast of characters, fully realized setting, and addicting mechanics. Most importantly though, it moves at a brilliant pace and never forces you to grind your way to victory. 70 hour game, 70 hours of story and gameplay, no fat around the edges, just the way I like my RPGs.
In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I read the manga spin-off right after I beat it… yeah, it wasn’t that great. But hey! Not nearly as great as Persona 4 Golden which finds itself in my top 10 games of all time now. Absolutely wonderful!