I try to spend some of my free time playing games, and of course, I try to dedicate some of this time to RPGs. The curious thing about me generally, especially this year, is that I didn’t play a single solitary game that came out this year. Most of my game time for this website is spent playing old RPGs for features, and it just so happens that the other games I’ve played are old too.
Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War
I have not yet played Fire Emblem: Three Houses, which I’m led to believe is great, but of the Fire Emblem games I have played, Genealogy of the Holy War is easily my favorite. To my knowledge, it’s the only Fire Emblem with a story that meaningfully challenges the role of power in society, going so far as to set the protagonist of the first half of the game as a sympathetic, tragic, yet unwittingly destructive figure. The characters and scenario design are as strong as you would expect, even if the maps are huge and take up to an hour to conquer, but the narrative is what really sets this title apart.
Ring of Red
It’s strange to write about Ring of Red now as I have a feature coming out in the near future, but I’m supposed to write about my individual games of the year, and this early PS2 game is right up there. For the sake of brevity and not revealing the full feature here, I’ll run it down. Post WWII-era giant walking tanks? Check. Amazing (but admittedly a little low-energy) combined arms battle system with infantry, giant robots, and great team-building opportunities? Check. Post WWII-era Cold War intrigue set in a divided Japan from an alternate history? Check.
But the cherry on top is the thoughtful exploration of identity, particularly the ugly and conflicting aspects of identity that are often thrust upon those born and bred in conflict. The main character is German-Japanese, but he identifies much more with his German side, a significant detail in post-war Japan. Thankfully the game takes some time to explore this aspect, and it’s much better for it, despite subpar localization.
Hey, did you know that XCOM 2 is available on mobile? That’s how I was finally able to play it, and now I can add my voice to the chorus of praise for this amazing game.
Big surprise here. While I have tapered off of this game a little bit, it’s still so, so damn good.
Modded MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries
MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries came out two years ago, and while I had my fun with it then, many aspects dulled the “80-ton walking mech pilot” part of it. Repetitive missions, a boring story and characters, and problematic AI were prominent issues. Thankfully, the modding community has been wonderful, and the two main mods I use in particular have changed everything.
The first is called MercTech, an overhaul that adds incredible features. These range from greatly enhanced ‘Mech customization, differing ammo types to switch between, realism tweaks like gyro load effects, granular damage to individual mech components, armor penetration, and spectacular ammo explosions.
The second mod, TTRulez AI, adds the ability to assign roles to ‘Mechs that completely change their behavior. I won’t spell it all out here, but suffice it to say that the first time I saw my teammate post up behind some trees and sling missiles at the enemy for fire support, I was in love.
Metal Gear Solid series
I can’t explain what moved me to marinate my brain in this poison cocktail of conspiracy, movie references, and nanomachines, but I admit that I’ve loved every second of it. Well, almost. This year I played through Metal Gear Solid 3 and 4. MGS3 is a bonafide stone-cold classic. It beautifully and unapologetically walks the line between surprisingly smart and incredibly stupid, a flavor combination I’ll always enjoy.
MGS4 is a game with major problems, but I love it too. The enhanced camouflaged system and dynamic environments just worked for me. The story leans much more on the incredibly stupid side. Still, aside from the horrific and unearned backstories of the weirdly sexualized Beauty and the Beast Unit (which are not at all how other MGS bosses tend to be), the dumb story and its treatment of the series’ loose ends worked for me too, for the most part.
I find it a terrible shame that we will probably never see games like this again, with ambition this sky-high, attention to detail this profound and weird, and this free of microtransactions. For all its problems, I will always celebrate Meal Gear Solid.
Company of Heroes
Hey, did you know that the original Company of Heroes and its expansions are available on mobile? I played a lot of this WWII-themed RTS in the late 2000s but never got good at it. In fact, the gulf between my enjoyment and my skill level is more vast in this series than in perhaps any other game series I play, but who cares? It’s on mobile now, and it’s one of the best RTS games ever made. We truly live in blessed times.
A welcome reminder that only in the quietest periods of life can we discover the true extent of its profundities. We need not fear the negative space of our life’s tapestries, that boredom which is the fuel of creativity and self-discovery. We can instead soak in the present moment. Indeed, we may yet find ourselves.