In 2016, I played thirty new, re-released, or remastered games! Not included in this list are the games I replayed, or games I played for the first time that did not release in 2016.
This year, despite its political intensity, heartbreak, disappointment, and death, was a banner year for art—video games, especially. Here is the list of games that I played and enjoyed, with some thoughts on comments about each:
Gone Home: Console Edition—
I had played Gone Home on PC with its Steam release a few years back, after recommendation from a close friend of mine. Of course, after loving it, I had been anticipating its console release for a while now. There are few changes to Gone Home on PS4 outside of a slight cosmetic uplift, but the additions of trophies do allow something slightly new for those who have played through this short and bittersweet game more than a few times. Gone Home is a spectacular title, easily one of the better love stories that has graced video gaming and also a pillar of LGBTQ coming-of-age storytelling. This first person makeup and exploratory-slash-narrated narrative add something unique to this game, and it is still controversial years later.
Final Fantasy Explorers—
My first new game of 2016, FF Explorers graced the 3DS finally after being released in Japan nearly a year and a half earlier. I quite enjoyed Explorers, especially the aspect of being able to quest with friends. The customization and job classes are fun and interesting, but the graphical issues and combat trouble on the 3DS plagued the release. One wonders why this game wasn’t released at the same time as the Japanese version—a 2014 release date would have felt more forgiving of many of the game’s issues. Despite that, FF Explorers offers many hours of questing, monster hunting, and equipment customization with Final Fantasy flavor, and the true fun of this game is playing it with friends.
Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth—
My first eagerly anticipated title of 2016, Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth was on the radar for a long time by diehard Digimon Fans who had felt that the last few years of Digimon games were more than lackluster. Digimon Story did many things right, namely creating an RPG experience that felt akin to Persona but using the beloved Digital Monsters to create their own unique world and narrative. I played the PS Vita version of Digimon Story and quickly became obsessed. The game is fun, difficult, and offers hours of quests and customization. Creating your perfect Digimon team requires not only finding and raising the monsters, but leveling them and taking care of their different stats as well. With an interesting storyline and free DLC, this was an extremely solid title.
Gravity Rush Remastered—
When Gravity Rush first released with the PS Vita many years back, it went under most gamers’ radars for too many reasons. Now, with the sequel upcoming on the PS4, the title was rel-released and remastered with new graphics and optimized for the PS4 controller. Gravity Rush stands the test of time as one of the more unique and entertaining action-platformers of the last few years, with endearing graphics and characters—and it is extremely fun to play, to boot. Gravity Rush’s steampunk city-world looks gorgeous on the PS4, and the ability to play the often motion-sickness inducing combat is a lot less harsh on a bigger screen. Gravity Rush offers hours of quests and a big city to explore, and after playing the demo of Gravity Rush 2 I am confident that this series will finally find a major fanbase.
Layers of Fear—
The first horror title I played in 2016, Layers of Fear was hotly anticipated because of its similarities to the cult-favorite demo, P.T. Layers of Fear centers around a frustrated painter as he explores his own home in order to figure out where his psychedelic intrusions are stemming from. Layer of Fear constantly messes with the player by keeping surprises out of view; a hallway will suddenly become an open door, a window will transform into a new room. This constant shifts create a sense of paranoia and anxiety in the player and keep you constantly moving, exploring the house as it transforms around you, but always out of sight. Layers of Fear contained some truly spectacular and imaginative imagery, with the horrors of the painter coming to light in each exploration of the house. The nearer his painting comes to completion, the more terrifying the truth becomes.
Salt and Sanctuary—
Only a few weeks ahead of the release of Dark Souls III, this indie title was released by a small two person team. Emulating many of the most entertaining aspects of both Dark Souls and Castlevania, S&S combined the best of Metroidvania design with the frustrating risk and reward style of the Souls series. S&S brought an extremely creative world to the table teeming with undiscovered lore and frightening monsters. With the ability to create your own character build and an entire world to explore, S&S forced the players to search every inch of the island on their way to its center, to finally combat the bizarre creature that had summoned them there in the first place. One of S&S’s most endearing aspects was its couch multiplayer, a concept that many games these days are sorely lacking. This allows two players to explore the island together—or to fail miserably trying.
Dark Souls III—
One of the killer apps this year, the Dark Souls series saw its third entry and its first PS4 release (not counting the PS4 remaster of Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin). Dark Souls III continued in the beloved style of the series, with harsh difficulty and worth reward. Dark Souls III introduced players to the world of Lothric, where harried souls are converging together and worlds are being displaced by the ending of the Age of Fire. Past heroes are coming back to life in order to light the First Flame, after the Prince of Lothric has abandoned his duty. Dark Souls III was sublimely entertaining, once again giving players the slow-burn of the original Dark Souls combined with new and interesting gameplay elements, such as Weapon Arts. The world of Lothric is dangerous and beautiful, and once again the Souls series shows its sublime ability to unveil story through bits and pieces of lore, creating a marvelous experience that players will revisit again and again.
Bravely Second: End Layer—
The sequel to 2014’s RPG hit, Bravely Default, Bravely Second brought back many of the classical charms of the first game but also added enough to keep the series from becoming too stale too quickly. Bravely Second matches the narrative of the first, presenting itself as a mainstream RPG but quickly showcasing itself to be full of fourth-wall breaking twists. The game utilizes the same job class system as the first, but this time the amount of available jobs is nearly doubled. Adding several fun mini-games and new side-quests to the table as well as a mix of new and old characters, Bravely Second has solidly added itself to this budding series and become a classic RPG in its own right.
Uncharted 4: Thief’s End—
After Dark Souls III, Uncharted 4 was my next major release of 2016. I’ve been a fan of Uncharted since the first game, and a fan of Naughty Dog since I was a child playing Crash Bandicoot. Plus, I consider Uncharted 2 to be one of the greatest games of all time. Uncharted 4 had a lot riding on it, with many fans hyping it seemingly beyond performance, and Naughty Dog promising the world. And…it delivered. Uncharted 4 is not only one of the most entertaining game experiences of 2016, but also one of the best games in the series. It hit all the right notes, adding in new characters and subtle gameplay elements while keeping the feeling of all the previous games. The narrative went in a new direction this time, combining the swashbuckling thievery and exploration with a more realistic approach to the characters. And yet it still kept many of the blockbuster action movie segments that make the series so entertaining. With its combination of solid story and highly entertaining third person combat, Uncharted 4 went one step further and made sure not to drop the ball in its final moments. The writers took no cheap shots with the storytelling, and Uncharted 4 will always serve as a wonderful example of how to treat your characters right.
I played the original DOOM on PC as a child, and I’ve always had a cursory interest in the series. I never played DOOM 2 or 3, but held that steadfast interest enough to want to return to the newest title in the series. Part of my interest stemmed from the game’s multiplayer deathmatch demos, which served frantic and entertaining combat. But the true glory of DOOM stems from its single-player game mode, which is not only an extremely entertaining experience but also an eventful one that has me desperately waiting for the next sequel or story DLC. DOOM did a fantastic job of keeping the combat fresh and bloody, letting the player kill demon after demon with satisfying glee. The version of Mars and Hell we visit in this new DOOM is visceral and grotesque, and every aspect of it felt like the true lovechild of the original game.
Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir—
I played the original Odin Sphere on PS2 nearly ten years ago, and I have purchased and played nearly every Vanillaware title since then. Leifthrasir took a step beyond the traditional remakes and remasters by not only giving Odin Sphere a face lift, but also touching up the entire soundtrack, adding a new ability system, multiple new game modes, tweaking the combat, adding new items, and nearly presenting the game as an entirely new experience for fans and first timers alike. Odin Sphere was a fun (albeit slightly tedious) title upon release, but Leifthrasir feels like the game it always should have been. I can proudly declare Odin Sphere as one of my favorite games of all time, and the care that was put into the game is a lesson that should be learned by any studio attempting to remaster an aging title.
Mighty No. 9—
After Capcom gave Mega Man his deathblow in the early 2000s, many fans were clamoring for anything even remotely similar to the glory of the Blue Bomber. When Inafune and his team announced they were going to Kickstart a Mega Man style game, hungry and anguished gamers gave them money by the fistful, myself included. As the years went on and many of us became worried about the quality of Mighty No. 9 (stemming from bizarre design and publishing choices, like making Mighty available on nearly 10 different consoles), I was ready to put that doubt to shame and finally play the game. Mighty No. 9, sadly, not only did not live up to Mega Man, but felt like a hollow game overall. One can only wonder what happened along the way, why Inafune made the choices he did, or if the fans themselves simply asked for too much. But with solid action-platformer titles still being released on on the horizon, the truth might be the most painful one: that Might No. 9 simply isn’t good.
One of the more interesting PS Vita titles I played this year, Grand Kingdom utilized a blend of strategy combat with tabletop gaming creativity. The player controls an army of customizable classes and characters that is reduced in party size per battle, and the skirmishes themselves are based on a three-tiered grid opposite the enemy group. Archers, knights, and dragon riders encompass the overwhelming list of classes that you can utilize, and the game itself is filled with story content, side quests, and an online mode where you can declare your allegiance for different groups and go to war with other players for awesome rewards. Grand Kingdom has dozens of hours of content, and is a great on-the-go strategy game that is fun to come back to time and time again.
Zero Time Dilemma—
One of my most anticipated titles of 2016, Zero Time Dilemma brought the Zero Escape series to a bizarre but satisfying close. Starting with 999 and continuing with Virtue’s Last Reward, the Zero Escape series has always been filled with mind breaking puzzles and completely out-there storytelling. Zero Time Dilemma continued this direction with a story that takes place between 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward, showcasing the terrifying and gruesome things the characters have to endure in order to keep the entire world from ending. Utilizing the same room escape and puzzle style of the previous two games, Zero Time Dilemma added a few new types of puzzle as well as amping up the violence and drama. With a remaster of the first two games coming to consoles in 2017, the Zero Escape series proves that it has been beloved by fans for a reason, and is one of the best visual novels available on any system.
A side-scrolling horror title by the creators of Limbo, Inside carries that tradition by starting you seemingly in the middle of the narrative, as a nameless and silent protagonist that must move through an increasingly violent world. From the start of Inside the player is given the stressful task of escaping shadowy captors, and once the game gets going the true terrors present themselves in such an honest and gruesome style that Inside may be one of the best designed horror titles I’ve ever played. While the gameplay is very simplistic, this works well for it by creative minimalistic and silent narrative that carries true weight. And the final scene of Inside will be one of the more haunting things you’ve ever seen in any game.
Nintendo’s augmented reality title was actually designed by Niantic, and at launch it took the entire world by storm. For a solid month, millions of people around the globe were obsessed with seeking out and catching Pokemon, and the world seemed a better place for it. I fondly remember walking trails, going to parks and finding myself in places I had never before been just to find the most elusive Pokemon. Despite many gameplay and server flaws, and the simplicity of the overall app, many players still play Pokemon Go. Niantic has continued to offer support for the game by releasing new Pokemon and showcasing special events, but in order to help Pokemon Go survive the coming years Nintendo will have to give them a helping hand and make Pokemon Go feel like a legitimate brother of the series.
I Am Setsuna—
Square Enix graced longtime RPG fans by giving us a game that was advertised as a return to the classic format, heavily influence by games such as Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger. Taking place entirely in a snow-covered world and featuring traditional, but lovable, character archetypes, I Am Setsuna delivered as promised. The game contains gorgeous piano themes, fun traditional turn-based combat, many dungeons to explore and a large overworld to see throughout its 30+ hours. Despite its presentation and acclaim, I Am Setsuna underperformed, and I see that as the combination of two things: It was overpriced ($40 for a small budget title), and it was available as digital only. Hopefully Square Enix looks at I Am Setsuna with clear eyes and realizes the mistakes that were made, but also take from it the truly good things about the game.
No Man’s Sky—
Easily the most controversial title of 2016, No Man’s Sky was gravely hyped for years and across multiple video game show presentations. Sony itself showcased the game as much more than it was, and this game was a lesson for everyone who underestimated how much gamers are willing to take. While the game itself was enjoyable, presenting a dizzying amount of planets to explore and objects to collect, it did not include a vast swathe of the things originally showcased as part of the game. Because of this many gamers felt they were conned by the experience, and it has created a rift in several gaming communities. I did enjoy the game for a good few dozen hours, but eventually realized there really isn’t that much to do to keep me occupied with so many other games on the horizon.
Hyper Light Drifter—
An indie title that had been in development for years, Hyper Light Drift promised to be a child of Diablo and The Legend of Zelda, utilizing 8-bit and 16-bit designs and graphics and presenting a brutal world to explore. The narrative is minimalist and severe, and the gameplay is tight and easy to pick up. Hyper Light Drifter definitely feels like a game of yesteryear but in modern trappings, and there is so much to find in this little title that it’s worth playing more than a few times. I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially its nods to classical gaming and its extremely entertaining top-down action combat.
Made by several of the developers of Journey, and scored by Journey’s own composer, Abzu truly felt like a title from ThatGameCompany, despite coming from new house GiantSquid. Abzu is a beautiful little title that allows the player to explore the ocean, and the developers made certain to include as many real and living special of aquatic animal as possible. The game itself feels like a testament to man versus nature, another idea that is often explored in titles such as Flower and Journey. With a gorgeous soundtrack and bright, popping graphics, Abzu is a relaxing and entertaining title that sets itself apart from so many of the fast and fluid games we play these days.
Part of Sony’s indie game summer promotion (alongside Abzu), Bound was a rather unique title that had the players enter a sort of dream state of an expectant mother, using her own childhood art book as the source for these dreams. The game mo-capped a ballerina for the dizzying and gorgeous player-character, and throughout Bound you dance and leap your way through dreamlike and bizarre worlds that play out like a child’s fervent fantasy. While a short game, Bound added itself to the unique list of Sony titles that truly stand out from the pack.
Resident Evil 4: PS4—
Although I have played Resident Evil 4 numerous times across multiple systems, there’s something about this classic action/horror title that keeps me coming back. This version had slightly updated graphics, but little else beyond the accessibility of having it on my PS4 along with many other favorite games. Once again I was enthralled by how good this title is.
Bioshock: The Collection—
The fall of Rapture was collected this year, as Bioshock, Bioshock 2, and Bioshock: Infinite were released in a single remastered collection. Bioshock holds up well despite its age, serving as one of the more unique first person shooter titles available. This version contained cosmetic changes, all DLC, and a concept art gallery for the games, plus having all three Bioshock titles together in the same format is a blessing. These are extremely enjoyable and deep games, and some of my favorites. There is something truly unique and grandiose in the design of the Bioshock games that make them stand apart from so many others in the genre.
Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse—
The sequel to Shin Megami Tensei IV, Apocalypse kept much of the original game design intact while also adding some sorely needed exploratory changes that made the title feel fresh and superior while also being faithful to the source. Apocalypse continues with many of the same characters as IV, serving as a sort of spin off to one of IV’s many possible endings. While the gameplay is more or less the same as it was in IV, the map is much easier to navigate this time and the quests are less tedious and daunting. Just as with IV, Apocalypse serves up many different DLC packs, has dozens of hours of content, and is quite difficult. In many ways I enjoyed Apocalypse more than its predecessor.
Azure Striker Gunvolt 2—
I was extremely excited when Inticreates announced Azure Striker Gunvolt years ago, as I hoped it would be a return to the style of their Mega Man Zero and Mega Man ZX titles, and it was. The original Gunvolt provided a unique take on the classic Mega Man gameplay, along with quests and an upgrade system for weapons that added some depth. Gunvolt 2 keeps these changes as well as adding a secondary character, and if one was to compare Gunvolt to Mighty No. 9, it seems that Inafune should have leaned more heavily on their expertise. While there are many Mega Man style games available from indie developers these days, Gunvolt retains the speed and adrenaline of the Mega Man X and Zero series in a positive, classical way.
World of Final Fantasy—
Square Enix advertised this title as a return to form, showcasing the classic Final Fantasy combat with a twist and a world filled with nostalgia and cute characters. World of Final Fantasy is sort of an FF-cum-Pokemon, a dungeon crawler with a unique spin on capturing monsters. The stacking mechanic and Liligent versus Jiant forms added some surprising strategy to this game, and the nostalgic characters, classic monsters and familiar music and combat made it quite entertaining. With a robust endgame, terrific voice acting and an infectious style, World of Final Fantasy was thoroughly enjoyable.
The latest entry in the mainstream Pokemon series, Sun and Moon (I played Moon) kept up with the majority of the traditions of the two-decade-old series: you pick a starter, you go on an adventure, you catch Pokemon. Aside from a few slight gameplay tweaks, new Pokemon, and an entirely new region to explore, Pokemon Moon also added a stronger narrative than the games have had in past entries. I found myself surprisingly enthralled by Lillie and her plight against Team Skull, and I enjoyed the shake up from the classic gym-style battles and badge collecting. Pokemon Moon was a step in the right direction for the series, but I can’t help but think that Nintendo and Game Freak could greatly benefit from adding some truly unique and much needed updates to the classic series.
Final Fantasy XV—
The most anticipated release this year for many, Final Fantasy XV has felt like a long time coming, however if you keep in mind that Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn came out in 2013, we’ve only really been waiting about three years for the next main series FF title. Despite its transformation from FF XIII spin-off (never released on the PS3), to fully-fledged Final Fantasy title, it retained much of the advertised majesty. Many fans were worried that FF XV may not live up to hype (or worse, that it might not release at all), so the day of its eventual release was highly anticipated the world over. Final Fantasy XV as a game is extremely enjoyable, offering dozens of hours of content across the Lucis region with four pals in their faithful automobile. The world of FF XV felt real, and alive, and deep, and its characters (with their many hours of unique voice acting) felt strong and relatable. The combat in FF XV was a departure from previous titles and yet the game still felt very much like Final Fantasy, with explosive moments, surprising revelations, and those classic FF nods like monsters and magic. While FF XV’s story fell apart in the last few chapters, many fans were able to forgive this for the overall adventure and the enjoyment of the title. This was a grand reintroduction to the series for many, and longtime fans felt the fuzzy enjoyment from it as well. Most of us, myself included, cannot wait to see what FF XVI will be.
Super Mario Maker 3DS—
I did not play Super Mario Maker WiiU, and I have regretted that since seeing the amazing fan creations and quirky gameplay provided by the title. I received Super Mario Maker 3DS for Christmas, and I’ve been blown away by the sheer creativity of the base levels, and further by the creativity of the fan created stages. Super Mario Maker seamlessly transitions between the styles of Super Mario Bros., Super Mario World, and Super Mario DS in its stages, and each stage is more lively and strange than the last. Playing through the pre-created stages unlocks parts for the Maker segment of the game, but the sheer enjoyment from the design of the stages will be enough for many players who simply enjoy that classical Mario gameplay.
The Last Guardian—
Another game that has been anticipated for years and plagued by rumors of delay, The Last Guardian finally released, and barely a week after Final Fantasy XV. My personal Game of the Year, The Last Guardian is a shining beacon of design accomplishment, a game that (much like its predecessors, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus) feels like its living within you, like it is something that has existed before you were even a thought, a world ancient and beautiful and real. The relationship between Trico and the Boy is visceral and heartwarming, and the game’s simple direction and complex puzzles offer ample enjoyment while the soundtrack and surreal beauty of the world leave the player reeling. The Last Guardian is a special kind of game, a true testament to the possibilities of video games as a presentation of art, and the heartwarming and heartbreaking moments between Trico and the Boy must be experienced to be truly understood.
Thanks for reading! Here’s hoping 2017 is just as great! With FF XII: Zodiac Age, Kingdom Hearts 2.8, Gravity Rush 2 and Persona 5 on the horizon, I’m excited!