2019 was a year where I got into a bunch of new series and returned to some long-absent ones. Long-awaited localisations, much-anticipated Kickstarters and outstanding stories all make up my favourites from this year. And yes, while I have missed out on a few big names (FFXIV: Shadowbringers, Fire Emblem: Three Houses and Disco Elysium to name my biggest regrets), I hope my picks show just how stellar this year has been.
Confession: this is my first Uchikoshi game, and oh boy what a mistake I've made in waiting this long. AI: The Somnium Files is full of sharp, witty writing and a story that has more than a few shocking twists along the way. I cared about characters I normally never would have worried about and stayed up way too many times beyond 1AM just to get the next scrap of info. AI manages to balance silly humour with some dark stuff, and it kept me guessing from start to finish. I definitely cursed myself for missing some very small hints along the way, but that's just a testament to Uchikoshi's writing! From its stylish presentation to its wacky Psync sequences, AI is always ready to surprise, delight and horrify. And if I haven't already sold you on this murder mystery with a twist, when you beat the game, you unlock dance mode
. Some light relief after seeing so many corpses with one eye removed is well deserved, right?
I'm so glad I was wrong to be worried about Bloodstained. This feels like a true follow-up to the Castlevania series, one that I've been waiting for since 2009. I was stunned at how big the map is and got hooked on uncovering all of the secrets the castle has to offer. There are so many different spells and skills, and thanks to the very detailed and extensive crafting system, it took me hours to unlock everything. But my favourite thing about IGA's spiritual Castlevania successor is the castle itself, and with every dismembered dog head and giant magical cat I saw, I fell even more in love. It has everything from a mechanical library, to a pair of towers inhabited by a two-headed dragon, to your traditional underground cave. Oh, and three sorcery laboratories, just in case the one at the top of the castle isn't good enough. It's the sole game I've platinumed this year, and it was worth every single hour. I'm excited for the DLC to drop so I can go through it all again with a different character.
Ever since I played the beta back in 2015, I knew I was going to love Indivisible. This game combines three of my favourite genres to create something I'll never get elsewhere. It shows us the stories and mythologies of the people of southeast Asia, amongst many others, and the studio's passion and heart for representing these cultures shines bright. This goes right down to the locations and the characters, and with over 20 unique allies, each with different quirks and play styles, I couldn't stop messing around with party setups. No two characters feel the same. Honestly, this might be my favourite looking game ever, with fluid animations and gorgeous locations that made me feel like I was playing through a cartoon. And there are even new characters and improvements on the way, along with an eventual Switch port. Even if it is a little RPG-lite, Indivisible's unique premise and world commanded my attention and captured my heart.
This year, I finally got into Falcom's Trails series. At the moment, the Cold Steel games are the only ones I've played to completion, but I've never connected with a world and so many characters so quickly. Trails of Cold Steel III is the culmination of seven games of storytelling, characters and worldbuilding. There are many quality of life changes in the combat system that make battles feel much faster and more fluid, with a range of new abilities such as Brave Orders to give you even more skills. All of the new characters are wonderful, and each has distinctive flaws and strengths that I found relatable. There was never a dull moment. Yet it all had to end, and by then I was screaming, wanting more. How could they end it like this?
I should be used to this by now, but no. Falcom has their claws in me. I've got to visit Liberl and Crossbell properly on the way to seeing The End of Saga, but Cold Steel III has left me gasping for more.
SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions came out of nowhere at the end of the year to defy all expectations and be absolutely fantastic. The battle system is incredible and easily one of my favourite turn-based systems in any RPG I've played. It relies on good planning and preparation, and you only have yourself to blame if you fail. And being SaGa, it is of course punishingly difficult, but not once did I feel like the game was unfair, and every time I died there was always something I could do better. I got such a thrill scraping through extremely difficult fights by the skin of my teeth that I felt like I could take on anything. And even after taking a few beatings, there's always the gorgeous watercolour maps and storybook presentation that makes me feel warm. SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions was never short of surprises for me, but each one of them was a delight, even the ones that handed my ass to me! It's quite possibly the best and most accessible SaGa game ever, without giving up on what makes the series so unique.
To those who were with me at this year's E3 when this was announced: I'm sorry. I may have been a bit loud because I couldn't control my excitement. But we finally got Seiken Densetsu 3 (Trials of Mana)! While the package itself doesn't present anything special, Collection of Mana does bring you three of the best action RPGs of the 90s, with beautiful worlds and kaleidoscopic visuals that I can now get lost in whenever I want.
I think Pokémon Sword & Shield have some of my favourite Pokémon designs ever, but one in particular stands out: Dragapult. You can't tell me a Dragon/Ghost-type Pokémon that's based on a B2 bomber and a diplocaulus isn't incredible. It's got a goofy smile and a big, translucent tail that wiggles when it hovers. And the best thing? Dragapult fires baby Dreepy out of its head cannons, and they look like they're having so much fun. Thanks, Galar, for giving me my new favourite Dragon type.
The only game this year to, ahem, pull my devil trigger, Devil May Cry 5 took me back to the late 2000s, where I wanted nothing but stylish action in the form of a bare-chested devil hunter eating pizza and skateboarding on demons until they disintegrate. Now older and wiser, Dante is back, but he's still taking on hell with style. A motorbike that splits into two clubs? Check. Nunchucks that transform into a flaming bo staff and an electric whip? Check. A cowboy hat that launches red orbs at enemies? Oh check that off. Add in Nero's excellent new Devil Breakers and V's unique playstyle, and you can find me in pure bliss: an arcade-style action game that relishes in the absurdity of its story and the chaos of its combat.
In a year that's been difficult for me personally, Untitled Goose Game's delightful simplicity and silliness turned out to be the perfect antidote for any bad day. But don't dismiss it as just a silly gimmick game, because Untitled Goose Game is like Hitman, but if you were a chaotic evil goose just causing shenanigans in a quaint English village. I pick this up whenever I'm feeling a bit low, and it never fails to cheer me up. I'll never get tired of honking into the milk bottle.