Thinning the herd in a year filled with unforgettable experiences
Another year is gone, and with it goes another stack of classics destined to enter the annals of gaming history. Whether you’re a fan of indie games, Japanese releases or the annual AAA blockbusters, it seems last year was flush with superb entries and excellent reinventions of aging series that raised the bar for their respective franchises. That said, I had one hell of a time playing my way through the past twelve months. Here are the 10 releases from 2015 that simply blew me away which I can guarantee I’ll be playing well into 2016.
10. Transformers: Devastation
Few developers know how to make a beat ’em up quite like the folks at PlatinumGames, and Transformers: Devastation drives this point home like a shiny metallic fist to the face. Perfectly melding together the studio’s experience with the exceptional Bayonetta series, as well as Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Platinum’s G1-inspired slugfest delivered an exceptional bare knuckle thrill ride that’s sure to please even the most jaded fan of the classic animated series. While the game is pretty brief –you can finish the story in just about six hours — it’s an immensely satisfying dose of nostalgia and adrenaline from start to finish. Here’s hoping this isn’t the last time we see the Bayonetta developer try their hand at the Transformers universe.
For more on Transformers: Devastation, be sure to check out my review here.
9. Persona 4: Dancing All night
If you thought the idea of shoehorning the heroes of ATLUS’ hit RPG Persona 4 into a funky rhythm game was a mere cash grab, you couldn’t be further from the truth. Persona 4: Dancing All Night redefines the genre, offering not only an addicting arcade-inspired Free Dance mode, but also a whopping 10-hour story mode that throws Yu Narukami and his companions from the Investigation Team into an all new mystery on the Midnight Stage. Toss in one of the most infectious soundtracks of 2015, comprised of breathtaking remixes from the original game’s iconic tunes, and you have one superb package Persona fans can’t afford to miss.
For my full impressions of the game, boogie on down to our review here.
8. Evoland 2: A Slight Case of Spacetime Continuum Disorder
Indie developer Shiro Games’ off-the-wall RPG love letter to gaming’s golden years hit all the right nostalgic notes when it adventured onto Steam last summer. Featuring a plethora of lovingly crafted nods to some of the most memorable franchises in classic gaming, this time-spanning epic is a joy ride for any gamer who cut their teeth on the 8 and 16-bit eras. From frantic boss battles that suddenly shift to impromptu explosive Bomberman bouts to a sudden shift into a Street Fighter-themed melee during a boss encounter, Evoland II will keep you on your toes from start to finish, making it one of the most memorable journeys of 2015.
Read my full thoughts on Evoland II: A Slight Case of Spacetime Continuum Disorder here.
7. Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight
Much more than a mere remaster of the 2008 Nintendo DS dungeon crawler, Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard, ATLUS’s 3DS-exclusive Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight completely overhauls its predecessor, delivering a brand new story mode and a host of clever refinements to the series’ signature dungeon-mapping adventure. Whether you’re diving deep into the underground ruins of Ginnungagap to assist the Caledonian Princess Arianna on her sacred pilgrimage, taking on side quests for townsfolk in need, or simply whipping up dishes in the game’s delicious new cooking mode, The Fafnir Knight is a wholly engaging epic that’s impossible to put down. If future installments in the series receive the same level of care as this brilliant sub-story, we just might have a new contender for the DRPG crown.
Check out my review of Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight here.
6. Life is Strange
Few games stories pulled me in last year quite like Life is Strange managed to. Developer DONTNOD’s time-shifting journey through the lives of Arcadia Bay teens Max and Chloe hit all the right notes, consistently tugging at my heartstrings while coaxing me down the rabbit hole to uncover the mysteries surrounding Max’s strange abilities and the ominous secrets lurking within the Blackwell Academy. Supported by strong writing and an unforgettable cast of characters, Life is Strange raised the bar for episodic narrative adventures. While it’s hard to imagine we’ll see a direct sequel to the game, here’s hoping DONTNOD continues to craft similarly exceptional stories in the near future.
Check out Jay’s review of Life is Strange: Episode 1 – Chrysalis here.
5. Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number
Dennation Games and Devolver Digital’s Hotline Miami series is one that’s always managed to resonate with me. Being a huge fan of classic arcade-style action, wanton carnage and thumping, 80’s-inspired synth tunes, the titles are pretty much my tailor-made, neon-saturated gaming wet dream. Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number not only serves as a natural evolution of the sadistic synth-laden franchise, it actually manages to expand on nearly every facet of the experience by introducing a stable of interesting and damaged main characters, mammoth new stages, a massive roster of new retrowave artists and a story that makes the original release seem like a mere demo in comparison. There aren’t many games that deliver the raw, visceral thrills that Wrong Number does, and we can’t wait to see what comes next for the series.
Check out my review of Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number here.
4.Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance
Nippon Ichi Software’s debut Disgaea on the current generation of hardware is a high water mark for the studio’s long-running SRPG series. Bigger has always been better in the world of Disgaea, and Alliance of Vengeance embraces this philosophy in spades with its massive battles, huge and varied cast of characters and lengthy campaign. NIS smartly added new gameplay features to spice up the battles as well such as Alliance Attacks and Revenge Mode which can dynamically change the tide of battle, adding even more options to the already cerebral strategy RPG formula. Killia’s adventure proves to be a fantastic starting point for Disgaea on the PlayStation 4, and shines brightly as a sign of great things to come for the series.
For my full thoughts on the game, you can find my review of Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance here.
3. Stella Glow
Yes, yet another sprawling SRPG epic makes its way into my 2015 top ten with Stella Glow. The final release from Luminous Arc developer Imageepoch, Stella Glow masterfully tells the tale of Alto, a young man with the ability to utilize the world’s four elemental witches’ powerful song magic by “tuning” them, allowing him to battle the evil forces of the Witch of Destruction, Hilda. The game features tight combat, fantastic characters and some of the most breathtaking musical compositions to accompany a 3DS game, courtesy of legendary video game composer Yasunori Mitsuda. Endlessly charming and engaging, Stella Glow features an addicting social link system similar to that of Persona 3 and 4, meaning there’s always something to do both on and off the battlefield. If you’re a fan of strategy RPGs, you owe it to yourself to experience Stella Glow.
Check out my review of Stella Glow here.
2. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Geralt of Rivia’s latest epic is an unforgettable journey. Polish developer CD Projekt RED hit it out of the park when creating the massive living, breathing world of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Whether you’re exploring the dangerous and varied landscapes of the game’s sprawling world on horseback, or powering your way through the game’s hard-hitting main quest, the developer’s staggering attention to detail and masterful worldbuilding shine through. Combine that with a visceral combat system and some of the best damn writing in video games and you have a recipe for perfection. And if that weren’t enough, CD Projekt RED is committed to bringing new life to the game with a number of huge content updates that further expand Geralt’s story. Simply put, it’s hard to imagine just how the developer will manage to top Wild Hunt when the Witcher sees its inevitable fourth installment, but I can’t wait to see them try.
You can find my review of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt here.
1. Yakuza 5
My life has gone through one hell of a transformation since SEGA stealthily released Yakuza 5 less than a month ago. Over the past several weeks I’ve found myself racing around the streets of Fukuoka as a drift racing king, slinging ramen through the bustling streets of Tokyo, beating the snot out of every dark suit-clad man I’ve seen on the streets with Christmas trees and even risen to the pinnacle of stardom with my successful idol career. Well, I’ve really just been playing a fuck ton of Yakuza 5, and I don’t see myself stopping anytime in the foreseeable future.
Few games manage to maintain the kind of lasting power that the latest chapter in SEGA’s open world crime saga has. Sure, the gritty underworld narrative is fantastic, ripe with gritty intrigue and tons of brutal fisticuffs, but the world the game is set in is just as immersive. Simply wandering the bustling streets of the game’s five boroughs, taking on jobs, interacting with the townsfolk and soaking up the lovingly crafted details of Yakuza 5′s depiction of modern day Japan is a treat in and of itself. Sauntering around Club SEGA and powering my way through games of Virtua Fighter 2 and Taiko Drum Master made me feel like a kid again, soaking up the warm embrace of CRT rays in the local arcade. I also managed to amass a sizable toy collection from the game’s numerous crane machines, packed with goodies from SEGA’s stable of franchises. Did I mention I punched out a two-meter tall bear in the harsh mountain wilderness like a meth-addled Paul Bunyan? Yeah, I did that too.
I could go on for hours and hours about what makes Yakuza 5 one of the best damn games I’ve played in years, but really, you should just buy the game and experience it yourself. Yakuza 5 is a celebration of everything I love about the escapism that is gaming, packed lovingly in a sake-soaked underworld package.
That said, Yakuza 6 can’t come soon enough.
For more of my infatuated rambling about Yakuza 5, scope out my review here.