It’s that time of year again. The leaves are changing color, the stockings are hung from the chimney with care, and every video game website on the planet is releasing Top 10 Lists and Game of the Year features. Here at Blistered Thumbs, we like to do things a little differently.
It would be easy enough to list the “Best” games of 2013. Comparing numerical scores and trying to objectively crown one title Game of the Year is a boring, futile effort though. After all, gamers are a heterogenous group with a wide array of tastes and preferences. Therefore, in order to construct a fitting end of the year piece that acknowledges the diversity of the hobby and the subjectivity of assembling any such list, I have tasked each BT writer and editor with choosing one single game that stands as a testament to the year as a whole.
These are the titles that defined the video game industry during the Earth’s last trip around the sun. These are the games that redefined genres, solidified trends, set exciting precedents, and captured the cultural zeitgeist. These are our picks for the Top Games of 2013.
The Starcraft franchise as a whole is an undeniable juggernaught of the RTS genre. From eSports to casual play, it grows increasingly difficult to find someone who hasn’t played some form or incarnation of the game, and with good reason. The franchise, while limited in scope to relatively simple storytelling intermixed with cutscenes, manages to weave together an intriging setting to play in. Of course, if someone doesn’t care about that, there’s always the ever-updating balance of endless multiplayer battles.
This year we saw the release of the second installment of the Starcraft II trilogy, Heart of the Swarm. It certainly had its flaws, but nothing has wasted more of my time this year besides maybe one other game, which would be here if said game wasn’t still in Beta. Endlessly replayable multiplayer with a huge and intensely dedicated modding and content-creating userbase make Heart of the Swarm a massive time sink for the dedicated fan.
But that assumes one doesn’t care about the story. For over ten years we waited for answers regarding Kerrigan, Duran, Mengsk, and other characters, and as the trilogy is now nearing its final chapter we now have many of those answers. Some intentionally corny writing aside, this chapter in the Starcraft franchise keeps the bar standing tall for the industry, but still leaves me wondering where it all can go from here.
I had a very love/hate relationship with the Fire Emblem series, with “had” being the key word. It began with Fire Emblem on the Game Boy Advance and spilled over to The Sacred Stones a few years later. While I generally enjoyed the series, I had a hard time accepting perma-death into isometric strategy titles (as an 18 year-old who will take his original copies of Final Fantasy Tactics and Bahamut Lagoon to the grave). I never played either of these titles more than once to completion, but after being privy to the grace that is Fire Emblem: Awakening, I may have to rectify my claims about the franchise.
My qualms with Fire Emblem as a whole were immediately washed away with the introduction of Chrom, your customizable character called The Avatar, and Validar, the eternal servant to the Dark Dragon Grima. What followed was the struggle that Chrom and the Shepherds must endure for the country of Ylisse to repel corrupt kings, power hungry warmongers, and the servants of the fell wyrm. The in-engine, non-anime cutscenes were both a surprising and amazing addition, and while the standard gameplay has not deviated from the formula that made it one of the longest standing turn-based strategy franchises, it also included a roundabout way of creating a legacy in the first generation of heroes in Awakening.
Online rewards via Wifi, StreetPass, and extremely cheap downloadable content add varying degrees of challenge, side story universes, and even the ability to recruit some of the legends from Awakening’s predecessors. I have played a grand total of over 200 hours over three different campaigns, yet I will still press on until every single unit in my army is a powerhouse of destruction on their own. There are still DLC maps that I have not yet conquered and Avatars who I meet through StreetPass on my transit ride to work that I must painstakingly plan against for glory and renown.
There is so much to this game, and yet I have not even begun to tire of Awakening, even after over 8 full days of playtime.
In years past JRPGs used to be as prominent as first-person shooters are today. They were seemingly everywhere and people couldn’t get enough of them. However, once the HD era of gaming kicked off, JRPGs weren’t nearly as plentiful, with high quality ones being particularly scarce. Then the venerable dream team of Level-5 and Studio Ghibli came together to create a truly special game: Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch.
What I love most about Ni no Kuni is how it stays true to the genre’s roots, while infusing it with fresh ideas and presenting it in the breath-taking art style of Studio Ghibli. Then there is the downright magical soundtrack from Studio Ghibli film veteran Joe Hisaishi. Ni no Kuni was the kick in the pants JRPGs needed and I absolutely adored every second of it.
The meticulous detail throughout each town and dungeon made exploring fun for me like no other game before. I felt like I was walking through a Ghibli film. Who wouldn’t want to do that? The battle system was also quite refreshing with its mix of Tales and Pokemon. Basically, this is the game I’ve been waiting for the entire generation and it was definitely worth the wait.
Let me be clear on one thing before anything else: Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is a ridiculous game and the game itself is very aware of that fact. The story, supporting cast, and various villains that Raiden interacts with are exaggerated and nearly unbelievable. The set-piece spectacles he accomplishes over the course of the game are equally absurd and I don’t even remember the number of times I was laughing to myself about how ridiculous it all was. The game relishes its absurdity though and that’s exactly what I find to be so endearing about it. All the insanity the game exhibits is played hilariously straight and it’s difficult not to have fun right alongside the game, especially with the impressive visuals that really bring the action to life.
Special attention has to be given to the boss battles, which I can easily call, without hesitation, some of the most enjoyable fights I’ve had the pleasure of playing through in all of gaming. Each boss presents a multi-stage battle against a uniquely designed character with very different fighting styles from one another, from Monsoon’s ability to split his body into numerous pieces to a later boss’s strong usage of shields to protect himself. The battles also provide a solid challenge, as nearly every boss has a distinct learning curve required to understand how to beat them, without ever feeling unfair. Finish it off with dynamic musical themes that fit each individual boss perfectly, and you have a recipe for some awesome battles.
Of course, I couldn’t finish talking about Revengeance without further discussing the absolutely awesome use of music throughout the game. The soundtrack for Revengeance is, to put it bluntly, very good and incredibly fitting. I can’t think of a song on the soundtrack that I wasn’t fond of and, even all these months after playing the game, I’ll often listen to the songs on my own time because I like them so much, with some easy favorites being “A Stranger I Remain” and “It Has to be This Way.” Even better than that, the songs are used to enhance the on-screen action dynamically, especially during the aforementioned boss battles. Oftentimes, the songs start out playing an instrumental version of a particular theme and transition to an even better vocal version of the theme when the action is particular intense or tensioned. For example, in a late-game battle against a rival swordsman, the theme starts out with the vocal version and only transitions to the instrumental when Raiden’s opponent loses his sword. It is an impressive use of music and I couldn’t help but love it every time I saw it.
As I said before, I have no doubt that there are objectively “better” games that were released this year and I have certainly played a few of them myself. However, Revengeance gave me a ton of fun in its relatively condensed package and it’s one of the few games I’ve played this year that I’ll pop in every now and again to fight a particularly enjoyable battle again. I can only hope that Kojima approves a second Metal Gear Rising so that Platinum can show their stuff once again.
Plus, it has Raiden going to Mexico dressed up in a sombrero and poncho to form a disguise and having it fail miserably. What’s not to love?
Have I mentioned I quite liked The Last of Us? If you think the answer to that question is “Yes, now please stop talking about it,” then please direct all complaints to Austin Yorski, he’s making me do this.
Ellie and Joel’s adventure is easily my pick of 2013. Hell, most people on this site agree, but only one of us is allowed to write about it (again, send complaints to Austin@blisteredthumbs.net).
From its superbly crafted opening sequence to the varied and bountiful environments, The Last Of Us never fails to incite an emotional reaction. Those that have played through this masterpiece will have specific moments that stand out for them, and unlike most games, these favorite parts won’t be a boss fight or level, but a tiny thing. Perhaps it’s the hidden Easter Egg gags that can be triggered after Ellie discovers a joke book. It could be the moment when Joel and Ellie randomly come across an animal. It could honestly be any one moment, as the game is full of twists and turns, laughs and emotional torment.
Perhaps that is this game’s greatest strength. While the story and events in The Last Of Us have been seen in the deluge of titles and TV shows that have appeared over the years, Naughty Dog’s adventure crafts them into a believable, exciting, and incredibly touching narrative. We won’t see a title like this again for a very long time, and for this you can also blame Austin, but perhaps this time unfairly. Feel free to do so anyway.