By Jenae R / December 28th, 2018
2018 was a good year of gaming for me. I still had quite a few PS4 games to catch up on after purchasing it in August of last year and I was also fortunate enough to end up with a Nintendo Switch this past May. This gave me many modern game options to try out and enjoy while catching up on what I couldn’t play sooner. It wasn’t all good though, as the year did have some disappointments and worrying developments. On the one hand Nintendo has finally turned things around and they’ve been fixing their mistakes from only a couple years ago. But unfortunately, now I worry we’re going right back where we started due to other companies’ decisions. Sony’s started some new mysterious policies that I don’t like for multiple reasons and Valve has suddenly decided to change their mind yet again and forget about their promise to leave games published on Steam alone. I’m worried for how this could affect the industry and whatever future games I may care about. Nonetheless, I enjoyed a lot of games this year anyways as I said and this is a list of my top five favorites I played this year. By the way, not all of these titles actually released this year, these are just ones I played for the first time in 2018 and most enjoyed out of all the games I played throughout the year.
Dragon Quest Builders
Let’s start with a game I already wrote an article on earlier this year to talk about why I loved it so much. Dragon Quest Builders is the most charming game I played this year. It has a story which gave me direction and goals, yet at the same time I was free to do whatever I wanted. I went exploring across large areas of land and every now and then I’d find something cool to check out. In the first chapter there was a castle falling apart with fancy tiles and other things to collect for my own home base I was building up. Then in the second chapter, I happened across a nicely decorated house that had a couch, a little sink area and a whole bunch of roof tiles. I liked having a balance between blind exploring and finding cool things but also having a story to follow and a basic guideline for what to build. There were annoying parts, like the tower defense portions which I wasn’t a fan of. But I liked having the direction, when I try to enjoy Terra Incognita (the game’s free build mode) I’m not nearly as driven to build and make progress, I prefer having the quests and story added in to my building game.
Dragon Quest XI
While we’re on the topic of Dragon Quest, I want to discuss another game from the franchise that actually did come out this year. I pre-ordered Dragon Quest XI and did not regret buying it whatsoever. Before this year, the only Dragon Quest I had played was Dragon Quest VIII. I bought it used for my PS2 not long after the 3DS remake came out. I personally wasn’t interested in more PS2-to-3DS ports with jagged and squished graphics (much like Tales of the Abyss on 3DS), plus I didn’t like the fact that there was supposedly some light censorship in that version. I mean DQVIII was okay, I did spend 50 hours playing it after all. But it was too plain for my taste. I know most Dragon Quest fans appreciate the simplicity and original formula, for me though, it was too extreme in those aspects and wasn’t as charming as other traditional JRPGs. So I ended up taking a chance on DQXI because after watching trailers of it, it seemed a lot more modern and exciting while still keeping the traditional elements. Fortunately, my impressions of it based on the trailers was exactly right and it was fun and exciting to play. I loved all of the characters a lot more than in VIII, both their personalities and their designs. In addition to that, there was a ton of content to enjoy. I especially had fun at this one part where a new casino temporarily became very easy to win in at its slot machines. There weren’t any worthwhile prizes at this time but it was fun. The story was also a lot more present. I feel like there was more of it to enjoy and keep you going than in VIII. The only disappointing thing about this game, is that the 3DS port with exclusive content won’t ever be localized. I can only hope the developers decide to add that stuff to the Switch port, knowing that us fans in the West didn’t get to enjoy it on 3DS and likely never will. I’m not sure I believe it’s likely, but I do hope for it.
.hack//G.U. Last Recode
Dot Hack is a series I really enjoyed in anime form when I was younger. I loved gaming and the concept of these people living in this virtual reality MMO was a really cool idea to me. It wasn’t until years later that I actually got a taste of the games. They might have been a traditional JRPG and not a real Dot Hack MMO, but I loved it anyways. I got absorbed into .hack//Infection playing at someone else’s house one night until four in the morning. Having only barely played .hack//G.U. part one years ago, I looked forward to checking it out on PS4 and actually getting to play the whole thing. What I like about the games in this series is that there are seemingly an infinite amount of dungeon options what with so many key words to take you to any number of them. I also definitely appreciated the Crimson VS mini-game. That’s something I’ve noticed recently, with playing games such as .hack//G.U. Last Recode, Yakuza 0 and Dragon Quest XI. I really take pleasure in having mini-games, whether it be casino type games like in Yakuza, or fictional retro games such as what Stardew Valley and Persona 5 have. Especially when it’s a relatively linear RPG. It’s nice being able to waste time having fun with some mini-games on the side. I don’t think Last Recode sucked me in quite as much as the first time I played Infection. Nevertheless, it had good music, it was fun and there was a ton of content within that compilation of all three original games, and the short but new additional part four.
The Alliance Alive
I almost completely spaced on The Alliance Alive. I just remembered during the process of editing this article that I played it this year. And how could I forget about this JRPG gem of a handheld game? It released this year and I adored it. It has all of the charm and atmosphere Legend of Legacy did, only this time the developers made sure it was a more exciting and traditional JRPG. It actually has a full story for you to get into including a real overworld and various other traditions such as the eventual boat to get around on and later on finding a way to fly. It’s a relatively small JRPG for the 3DS, but it still has fun characters and quality music. I got a lot of joy out of playing The Alliance Alive. I’d recommend it to any JRPG fan who hasn’t yet abandoned their 3DS.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2
In the end, XC2 is for sure my fifth and final top favorite game I played this past year. This game sucked me in for many more hours than I expected or could ever hope for. It was my first Nintendo Switch game and was definitely worth it. I do prefer the characters, art style, story and overall atmosphere of the original Xenoblade quite a bit more. Nonetheless, the sequel has much improved gameplay and kept me glued for around a hundred hours or so before I got significantly burnt out and moved on. I had a lot of fun with this one. There was a lot of exploring to be done, various quests and it’s cool collecting all of the Blades. Having so many also gives you even more hours of gameplay when there’s a lot to work on with getting passives unlocked and whatnot. One flaw with XC2 though is that I don’t personally believe this game needed a stand-alone story expansion. They make the flashbacks in the main game seem like there’s so much more backstory and all of the people from back then knew each other for a long time. But once you play the Torna expansion, in reality, they meet and go on their adventure in what seems like only a few days time-span. I’d rather have been given some sort of portal to go back and explore Torna and other titans in the past as part of the initial game, instead of having a not actually necessary stand alone and overly rushed prequel. And by rushed I only mean that the story and content of Torna moves too quickly.
Before we finish this up, I do want to throw some honorable mentions in here. There are some games I had a lot of fun with but either they didn’t quite reach top fave status, or I haven’t yet played nearly enough to consider adding it to this list. First up is Trails of Cold Steel 1. I enjoyed it like a good book, it started off really slow and was kind of meh, until I got to the juicier middle, then I couldn’t put it down. I sped through the game in only a couple of weeks after I got to the good stuff. The battle system though was a bit difficult and getting enough money and/or experience points wasn’t always easy. My second honorable mention is Horizon Zero Dawn. I love the atmosphere of this title. It’s fun to explore and the background music while doing so is fantastic. Though I’m not at all good at stealth required parts against human enemies. But that isn’t my main reason for it being an honorable mention. The reason HZD isn’t in my top five is only because I’m not super far into it and I don’t think I’ve spent enough time playing to properly consider it. My second to last, almost favorite game I spent time with this year happens to be Splatoon 2. I’m not much of a shooter fan, it doesn’t help that I’m terrible at the genre and can only play a shooter for so long in one sitting. Nonetheless, Splatoon 2 is somewhat of an exception to my dislike of shooters. I never played the original game so I was surprised I found myself as pleased with the sequel as I am. I most appreciate all of the colors and overall atmosphere. Plus, I of course like dressing up my inkling and octoling in various outfits. Last but not least, since I’m a fan of Atlus, my final honorable mention is Shin Megami Tensei IV Apocalypse. Atlus makes numerous high quality JRPGs and this entry in their SMT series is no different. Sadly, I don’t necessarily like it as much as some other games. Mostly, I simply still prefer the original SMT IV game. Both series entries have high quality Atlus game music and are fun to play. I think the original just sucked me in more and I haven’t gotten around to finishing Apocalypse yet.
There you have it, those are the games I most loved playing this year. As I said before, not all of them were 2018 releases. Regardless, I had a lot of catching up to do with titles that have in general come out in the last few years. All of them were worth playing. I had so many fun adventures, I got to build up my own base creations, explore and help make multiple fictional worlds better. Not to mention all of the other adventures I had between my honorable mentions and any other games I played but didn’t talk about here. Now that I’m more caught up on the games I was interested in playing, I don’t know if next year will be as great as this year was. However, I very much look forward to whatever adventures I go on in 2019 and hopefully somehow, it is an even better year for gaming.
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