This is without a doubt the Year of the Rising Sun when it comes to gaming. While the west put out a few good to mediocre titles, it seems Japanese devs were struck by one of the great muses of old and pumped out one hit after the next. What’s even more impressive is we’re not just talking a few hours of hit it and quit it entertainment here, quite a few of these titles I believe will go down in history as some of the best games of all time. True classics that build memorable experiences that stem from a mix of fun and unique gameplay, tight art direction, fascinating standout characters and at least in some cases, truly exciting, gripping narratives. But enough with the gushing and hyperbole, on with the games…
Persona 5 (PS4)
Persona 5 places you in the shoes of tall, dark and handsome, dashingly marvelous high school student with a criminal record Joker. With its modern trappings that include retail store littered streets, complex subway systems, sky blotting skyscrapers, faceless crowds and claustorphobic alleyways, Persona 5 recreates a digital version of Tokyo that’s really reminiscent of any major city on the planet today. In fact, P Studio team members used several references and captured photographs of Tokyo to get the feel of the metropolis down pact.
Yet, with the aide of a touch of magical realism, Persona 5 still manages to create an incredible world of mythic proportions that rivals that of your science fiction soap operas and medieval high fantasy romps. The world is imaginative to the point of insane, yet the in-game mythos and psuedo-science is so next to air tight it’s difficult to ever find yourself truly lost or confused as to how things work. I wanted to get utterly lost in the world of Persona 5, in the world of my teammates aptly named The Real Hood G’s. I mean, the Phantom Thieves, though you get to rename to your liking. Whether it was doing something as mundane as hanging out with my buddy for some ramen noodles, or escaping into the tortured mindscape of a lonely individual to find they’d invented an entire Egyptian town complete with mummy infested pyramids and wartorn villages, or if it was taking a girl on a first date in hopes of not only unlocking the key to her heart, but the very manifestation of her soul in a super powered creature called a Persona, Persona 5 created an endless list of reasons to return.
It’s also a game that shows how a little can go a long way. Inspired by 70s comic books, anime and pop culture aesthetics, the Phantom Thieves dressed in their oh so sexy outfits inspired by the likes of Lupin the 3rd, Batman, The Matrix and even the Road Warrior. Their adventures saw them around massive casinos, castles, space stations and twisted subway systems to some of the classiest funk and soul inspired beats in gaming. From a UI that plays out like an animated graphic novel, to dozens upon dozens of animations per single character (with some of these animations, I’ll point out, only ever being used once) with the goal of breathing life into them. It’s not a deeply technical game by any means, but it has more than enough style to make up for it.
Let’s not forget the cast of characters. The villains are truly vile, individuals you just love to hate, and a supporting cast of absolutely demented but entirely loveable and relateable individuals. Then there’s the Phantom Thieves, a group of nine teenagers and their cat too. The Phantom Thieves are tragic and dark, some even plain old antagonistic, but they all quickly grow into absolutely enduring characters with their collective optimism, bravado, passion and social awkwardness. As I mentioned in my review the characters are so well portrayed, two of the Phantom Thieves reminded me of my own high school buddies. For me at least the Phantom Thieves will go down as one of the greatest RPG parties of all time, right alongside Chrono Trigger’s time travelers, Mass Effect’s Normandy Crew, Fallout New Vegas’ wanders and Final Fantasy’s adorable insurgents in the Returners and AVALANCE. Persona 5 is a game about stealing hearts, and at the risk of sounding corny, this truly stole my heart.
NieR: Automata (PC, PS4)
Yoko Taro is an odd sort, and while I don’t share the same enthusiasm for his games as fellow editor Lucio Lorenzino, I’ve experienced a couple of his earlier works. They’re not exactly easy to get into, but they often serve up quite twisted, sometimes meta narratives that are worth wonky controls and obtuse gameplay. The really good news? Nier Automata is neither wonky nor obtuse. It turns out Yoko Taro, known best for his unique brand of CRAZY and Platinum Games, known best for their unique brand of CRAZY, are the perfect team to come together and make a slightly less crazy, but thoroughly enjoyable, tightly produced, at times surprisingly touching video game with solid gameplay and smooth flowing combat that allows for encounters where you kick ass and take names, with boss fights that are insanely intense but never feel cheap.
Without spoiling it, for people who like getting lost in completely unqiue sci-fi and fantasy worlds, Nier Automata really builds a unique semi-open world playground for you to bounce around in. It’s not the prettiest game ever, in fact most of the graphical attention in the game… And this is 100% true… Was spent detailing central protagonist Yorha 2B’s booty (and hey, a fine booty it is). Yet the character models, combat animations, massive bosses and sometimes truly imaginative environmental set pieces (a tank decorated with christmas lights was one of the best things I’ve seen all year), and ass cheek physics more than make up for at times droll backgrounds.
Finally, Platinum’s bombastic gameplay and the ability to complete tailor 2B’s skills, and I mean really tailor them, you want to get rid of a visible health bar or radar in order to install a chip that makes her run faster? Go for it kid, and you have one of the best action gaming, booty clapping, robot slicing experiences imagined.
Splatoon 2 (Switch)
There were just so many great Nintendo games this year it’s once again easy to remember when they were called ‘king.’ Splatoon 2 is, as the name lightly implies, the direct sequel to Nintendo’s first new IP in awhile. The original Splatoon was both a great entry into the Nintendo library, and the seemingly endless desert of multiplayer shooters, but Splatoon 2 really polishes every aspect of the last game to a fine sheen. It’s reminiscent of how Titanfall felt like the test run with Titanfall 2 serving as the franchise ‘real’ release. I’d say something about how Splatoon was just dipping its toes in the water, but the game’s paintball brawlers, those 14 year old blood thirsty, materialistic mascots named Inklings dissolve in water, so…
The point is, Splatoon 2 isn’t a cynical cash grab. It really tightens all the nuts and bolts of the first game, doing away with excess fat while cooking up a bunch of new delicious trimmings. The game looks better, combat runs faster, the Switch’s motion controls (which I loathed at first fyi) allow for one to pull off some truly crazy stunts in combat, it’s loaded with new special skills and weapons, new modes, new maps and nicely revamped old maps, a brand new campaign with new bosses and some bizarrely difficult yet satisfying platform, and even two new loveable mascots in DJ Marina and rapper Pearl. Well. Loveable mascot in DJ Marina and an ugly little troll you try not to feed after midnight, rapper Pearl, but you get me. The game even looks better, exploding with even more color than the first one and ink splatters with a healthy shine. This is a true sequel alright.
However what’s really impressive is just how much support this game receives from the developer end. Returning to the game are of course the Splatfests, those huge weekend brawls that determine the fate of some completely mediocre and arbitrary poll, but the real support comes in just how often the game is updated. The development team is keen to listen to player complaints, or to find exploits, and quickly fix them. It seems there’s a new map or weapon added each time I enter the game, with an occasional new battle mode introduced that always feels robust and fun and never like someone just cobbled it together over a weekend. With a game that’s largely multiplayer that kind of constant support is important, and with the help of an excited fanbase, Splatoon 2 has the potential to live on a very lone time.
Nioh (PC, PS4)
Nioh is a bit of an under dog on my list. Such a scrappy little contender it surprises even myself that it made it up here. Nioh is Team Ninja’s entry into the relatively new to the gaming scene yet increasingly bloated and uninspired Soulslike genre. Nioh however is anything but uninspired. A game with a very, very long development history, it is very roughly based on an unfinished Akira Kurosawa film named Oni, which itself was loosely based on the tale of real life westerner turned samurai William Adams. The game was originally envisioned as a more traditional RPG, yet ultimately scrapped, changing genres and teams until it landed on a relatively fresh faced crew at Team Ninja intent on building a brand new experience.
And that they did. At face value Nioh looks like any other Soulslike. The UI looks exactly the same, you face enemies and death traps that will kill you and kill you again and kill you until you’re dead. You’re bogged down by heavy armor with slow, wide swinging attack animations and take on grotesque bosses five times you’re size… But as you continue on with Nioh the game transforms into something else. Battles run at a much quicker clip, William has skill trees that allow for deep combo customization and gameplay tailoring, loot collection is similar to that of an ARPG allowing for far more set customization, even reforging gear to look like other gear so you can get your Fashion Souls on without sacrificing stats. Most importantly you start to collect Pokemon-esque Guardian Spirits that have a huge impact on how you play the game, between giving you various stat boosts and powerful summons that replace your combos with unique attacks. Okay so the story is a bit nonsense (though some of the designs of other historic samurai are top notch, and the graphic novel like cutscenes that introduce them are well made), and you have to really be into the hack and slash genre to get into this game, but I was impressed by Team Ninja’s ability to approach a genre that was growing old, quick, and introducing some brand new formulas to the equation making for a wholly unique experience.
Resident Evil 7 (PC, PS4, XB1)
As I’ve documented on Enemy Slime in the past, I’ve been a ride of die Resident Evil fan forever. Often to my own detriment. I own some iteration of damn near every game in the series (save for Operation Raccoon City, blech), I’ve seen all the movies, heck I’ve even read all the books by S.D. Perry. That doesn’t mean I’ve always liked Resident Evil, it just means I’ve remained faithful like a puppy to a long rotted, torn, stinky chew toy. While I thought Resident Evil 6 was tragedy in motion, I held hope the franchise could once again find greatness with the help of the Revelations games. With some of the team behind Revelations being moved to the development of Resident Evil 7, my excitement for the series bubbled over again.
And boy was I rewarded for my faith, and it was good. Similar to Nioh, it’s easier to glance at RE7’s aesthetics and make a hand waving comparison to other first person view video games that require you run and hide inside panic rooms like your name is Jodie Foster. Co-starring Kristen Stewart. Also like Nioh, Resident Evil 7 is more than meets the eye. While your first few hours of the game will be spent running in circles, evading the psychotic redneck determined to put your ass through a wall, you’ll soon find yourself blowing shit up with remote bombs and dueling monsters in chainsaw versus chainsaw battles of might. Resident Evil 7 is also the horror fan’s horror game. With a family of rednecks, a spouse and a creepy little girl terrorizing you as you skulk across an old bayou plantation home, each major stalker you meet is representative of a different major horror genre. Jack, your first creep, is the old redneck slasher. Margueritte serves up a nice dose of vaginal body horror. Your wife Mia could use a good exorcist, and so forth. This is a must for any horror fan.
As I said, this was the year of the Rising Sun, and other games didn’t make my list simply by fact of knowing other Enemy Slime editors would be of the same mindset and elect them anyway. This includes hat stacking simulator Mario Odyssey and epic open world adventure Zelda: Breath of the Wild. One game that won’t be receiving a nomination however is Doki Doki Literature Club, as badly as I wanted to place it on my list. A dating sim, Doki Doki is the baby of one individual, and usually those types of indie titles are instant locks for my Game of the Year list. While it doesn’t have the team size, money or resources as the bigger titles on my list, it manages to be just as emotional, character oriented and meta as Persona 5 and Nier Automata, while being just as horrifying as Resident Evil 7. It’s free, so you have no excuse not to check it out.