by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
This was such a damn hard list to write. At first, I was only able to think of a few games that really stood out to me, but the more I went back over games I reviewed, there were some real gems.I did find a few games that I really loved, all told. I left out remakes, remasters, and reworks completely. I do want to take a few moments to mention those, though. This was a remarkable year for remakes, remasters, and PC ports! Final Fantasy XV, Yakuza 0 (PC), Final Fantasy XII, there were just so damn many good ports and remakes this year. Nostalgia never gets old, I suppose. I also left fighting games off, but there were a few solid competitors, if you will, this year. Soulcalibur VI more than makes up for Soulcalibur V, as a prime example. Games I didn’t play also obviously did not make the cut – I didn’t play Red Dead Redemption 2 (and I’m not a big cowboy nut, so it’s not high on my to-play list), so it’s not here. I recognize it as a great achievement though, and to the people who love it, I’m glad you do! I hope the series keeps going. But this is my list, and we’re doing it my way! With that in mind, every game on this list was merely competing for second place. Let’s get started!
10. The Messenger: The Messenger is on the list of “Games I need some practice to get better at”. The Messenger is a mix of the Metroidvania genre and the NES Ninja Gaiden franchise. You have the familiar wall jump from that (and Batman), tend to travel back and forth over areas to find secrets, while also farming currency for power-ups. The Messenger does not take itself very seriously and featured moments that were both deep and eye-wateringly hilarious. It’s tremendously difficult, but you get better by doing (and dying). It feels like Dead Cells meets Shovel Knight in terms of look and feel, and that’s a pretty high company to be in. The Messenger has a terrific soundtrack and it’s very satisfying to get through a fight, whether it’s the first try or the 20th try. There’s plenty of replay value if you can just overcome the at-times frustrating difficulty. Review: Classic Platforming Goodness
9. Little Dragons Cafe: I genuinely didn’t think that I would enjoy Little Dragon’s Cafe quite as much as I did. But, here we are. Little Dragon’s Cafe has an insanely adorable art and character designs but hides a terribly dark story. These kids have a mother that’s in a coma and dying, and it’s up to them to save her, by making this restaurant a success and raising a powerful dragon. It’s a mixture of cooking/rhythm game with adventuring and farming. You do a lot in each day, from gathering materials, cooking, satisfying customers and meeting new friends/allies. It’s relaxing, it’s enjoyable, and it was hard to pick between this and “My Time at Portia”. They both have their charms, but Little Dragon’s Cafe atmosphere lured me just a little bit farther. Review: How to Cook (for) Dragons
8. The Banner Saga 3: The Banner Saga 3 was my first time in this franchise, so I’m still learning a lot about it. But I dig the dark, grimdark Viking setting. It felt like a well-crafted Norse land, and I was thrust into a world that felt utterly hopeless, slowly being consumed by darkness. It’s the end of their saga, and what really sealed the deal here was the combat. I love a good turn-based strategy game, and I had enough variety in characters, character designs, and ways to tackle a fight to keep me invested. I highly recommend The Banner Saga for its incredible storytelling and challenging combat. Preview: The Grimdark Night
7. Ni no Kuni 2: Ni no Kuni 2 is another series that I jumped into head-first. Though the second game in the series (and I owned Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch for PS3), I never did get around to playing it. I’m glad I started here though, while the art is gorgeous perfection, I like the style of combat and gameplay of the second more than I do the first. This world of anthropomorphic characters caught me off guard and though I do need to go back and complete a few things, This was one of my favorites of the early year. The time spent idling or just doing miscellaneous things in the world to kill time in upgrading your Town/Castle kind of stunk, but I played on PC, so that was not terribly difficult to do. The blend of real-time RPG, tactical/strategy RPG, and Kingdom Development was a lot of fun to do. When I got tired of one facet, I could move to do something else and seldom really get fed up. It left me with plenty to see and do, without overwhelming me. Ni no Kuni 2 still has some appeal for me, since I’ve yet to do the post-game or DLC content, but I look forward to it. Review: Miyazaki the JRPG
6. Super Robot Wars X: Dear Bandai: Start porting these to America. Please? Otherwise, I have to keep importing the SEA versions (with English subtitles/menus), and that’s sort of frustrating. But the SRW franchise is on the way to the Switch and that’s beautiful. The thing about Super Robot Wars is that it never changes. The lineup of mecha changes, the story still sort of remains the same (within reason), but the style of the actual game remains the same. You recruit a wide assortment of mecha from Gundam/Escaflowne/Gurren Lagann/Mazinger and more. The longer the game goes on, the harder the “bonus” challenges get, and the longer the fights last. That’s one reason I’m looking forward to the Switch edition, being able to take it on the go. My average fight about 10 stages in lasts at least 45 minutes, and that’s without retries. The longest stage has taken was three and a half hours. That. . . was with retries. The premise remains the same, but each iteration of the series has its own charms. Do you love giant robots? Turn-based strategy? Awesome cutscenes? Then you need to tell Bandai Namco to do the right thing. Review: No review of X, but I did talk about the franchise.
5. Dead Cells: Dead Cells is probably the best indie game I played this year. It’s no big secret that if I’m not playing a traditional RPG or a card game, I’m also head-over-heels for Metroidvanias. This is a Metroidvania Roguelite, where you get a little stronger with each death, and learn more in each attempt (if you want to get good). I’ve yet to beat any of the bosses but I’ve come perilously close. The 8/16 bit style pixel graphics are wonderful and not overstated, giving it that old-school look with modern sensibilities. It controls perfectly with a keyboard or a controller, but it shines brightest with control in hand. Roguelike/lites aren’t as much my thing, but every time I play Dead Cells, I get a little better, a little smarter, my character gets a little more powerful. It’s that tangible feeling of growing more skilled or learning my lessons from last time that made me enjoy it. Not to mention the weapons are incredibly cool. There’s plenty of tech to learn, from stopping a fall part-way to fire an arrow (thus stopping momentum), and rolling afterward to prevent a death, to learning combos of weapons/abilities to see what is the best in any given situation. Preview: You Died
4. Octopath Traveler: I’m ashamed to admit, but I have yet to beat Octopath Traveler. It’s one of my favorite games of the year, but it came around at a time when I was very distracted by other projects. Side-quests, hidden jobs, awesome characters with a surprising amount of depth, Octopath Traveler showed me that Square-Enix can do more than remake their greatest hits. They definitely still have what it takes to make top-quality JRPGs. The sprite artwork again was amazing, and the soundtrack really stuck with me. One of the only real drawbacks to me personally, was the lack of direction. Since you can focus on any one of the characters stories whenever you want, there’s less of a feeling of a general end-game. It was different and fun for me anyway though. I appreciated that while most of the special traits were unique, the important ones were shared/redesigned slightly, so you didn’t have to use any one character to get information/steal something/et cetera. You could say, steal, or you could use a character that bribes/purchases outright. Octopath Traveler was a marvel, and I definitely need to get back to it. Maybe I’ll do that today. . . Review: Song As Old as Rhyme
3. Fist of the North Star: This cannot be a shock at all. Fist of the North Star (Hokuto no Ken) in the Yakuza engine?! Of course, I was all over this! This game didn’t suffer from much, giving me exactly what I expected in copious amounts: Ridiculous fights with insane gore, Ridiculous sidequests, and a solid, Hokuto no Ken storyline to follow. All the characters I anticipated showed up, but some of the grinding really disappointed me (like the 100,000,000 dollar vase). The medallions were okay, but the combat was fun and flexible, and all of Kenshiro’s greatest hits, such as they were, were on display. If you can think of a Hokuto art, it was probably in this game. Plus, you could make him look like Kiryu – this wasn’t necessary or even useful, but it was for damn sure hilarious. There are some things that could be changed for a sequel (if one does appear), but it was a step in the right direction and really brought the Fist of the North Star franchise back to life again. I’m hoping they improve the driving portions though; those made me pretty damn ill the first few playthroughs. Review: YOU WA SHOCK
2. Dragon Quest XI: After losing my 80+ hour playthrough thanks to the last hurricane, I have a hard time coming back to Dragon Quest XI, which makes me frankly, pretty damn sad. Dragon Quest XI is proof that you don’t have to shake things up in every game to make it enjoyable and fresh. Dragon Queste has had a pretty similar formula since the beginning. They’re all terribly difficult, with a cool, young hero, and adorable monsters. Dragon Quest XI might be the latest in the franchise, but it has plenty of quality-of-life changes and facets that make it a great starting point for newcomers to the franchise. It’s not tied to any of the older stories (such as the Loto/Roto trilogy that the franchise started with), so you can just leap in and enjoy this world. Not to mention, it gets incredibly dark about halfway, and just when I thought it was over, there was even more content! It was a full, fleshed out game with a second act, a post-game, and everything from the crafting to the dungeons were just a treat to explore. I didn’t feel like I wasn’t good enough to play the game (except one boss fight), and there is plenty of replay value in trying other party combinations, and the built-in challenge mode (Draconic Challenges). I love this game. Review: True Ending. . . I need it
1. EarthBound: Did you really expect something else? Every game on this list was competing for second, and I said that at the beginning! EarthBound has been my favorite game since the mid-90s, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. So, my top RPG of 2018 is the 1994 classic EarthBound, by Shigesato Itoi. A cute, adorable RPG starring Ness, Paula, Jeff, and Poo as they fight to save their world from Giygas. For such a cute aesthetic, this is another title that hides some pretty dark, grim moments. That’s one thing I’ve come to appreciate: That blend of cute and grimdark. The Mother series has never been one to take over America, and I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Mother, Mother 2 and Mother 3 had blown up in America outside of the “Cult Classic” status. We’ll never know, unfortunately! Review: Mr. Saturn Do All For You, Boing
Okay, jokes aside, my actual number one this year is. . .
1. Yakuza 6: I fell in love with the Yakuza franchise kind of late. My first one was Yakuza 4, which I reviewed on the PS3 as one of my earlier work assignments. At the time I didn’t even have a PS3 that could install the game all the way, so I had to borrow one. From there I went to Yakuza 5, 0, Kiwami, and Kiwami 2. Yakuza 6: The Song of Life hit me right in the gut, and kept doing it every time I thought things were starting to go okay for Kiryu and his adopted daughter. It’s the last entry in the series that will star Kiryu (in terms of new titles, and not remakes), and he really goes out in a very . . . Kiryu way. I did not see the ending of this game coming at all, and I really wasn’t prepared for it. Perhaps if the next protag isn’t popular, we’ll see more of Kiryu, but I’m hoping his successor will be just as cool. Normally, I hate sandbox games. I don’t like being dumped into a gigantic area with too many things to do. Yakuza 6 however, had a pair of sandboxes (which isn’t unusual for the series), Yakuza does a lot with them. There was never a point where I felt like I was wasting my time, or I was overwhelmed with content to do (thus creating Choice Paralysis). Everything from the voice cast to the combat, to the localization, everything about Yakuza 6 was superb. This is another save file I lost, but I’m more than willing to go back and do it again. If you’ve been holding off on the Yakuza series because you aren’t sure what it’s all about, trust me – Yakuza as a franchise will not disappoint. Review: Seriously, what the hell?!
I might be nitpicky, but 2018 had some real winners for me. What about you? What were some of your favorites? Feel free to let me know your favorite RPG/RPG-like games for the year of 2018? What are you excited for in this coming year? Let me know!