Well, it’s that time once again! The seasons have passed, the Earth has concluded another rotation around the sun, and a whole bunch of nonsense happened! It’s the end of 2018!
Personally, it has been a somewhat eventful year for me. I started presenting myself as female full-time, I finished my third novel, Psycho Bullet Festival: The Odyssey of Abigale Quinlan, I received a Bachelor’s in Accounting, and I also gained a lot of general living experience after my mother experienced a notable injury that she has thankfully mostly recovered from. Oh, and of course I played and reviewed a bunch of games, despite needing to partake in a hiatus for a couple weeks near the end. I would feel bad about doing so, but it’s not like anybody regularly reads my stuff, and instead they just come here for screenshots and flowcharts for Press-Switch and Student Transfer.
But that’s enough about me. This is primarily a gaming blog above anything else, so let’s start by retreading through the industry highlights throughout the year. By which I mean the top stories that really caught my eye this past year, because boy howdy was there a lot of weird stuff going on these past 365 days.
Live Services, Games as a Service, Lifestyle games, or whatever you want to call them, have been cooking behind the AAA curtain for a while, but became especially prominent this year. With companies like Ubisoft establishing them as a core component of their business, and most AAA publishers following in suit. Though, this model has already worked to the detriment of certain games, as even single player titles are becoming “pay to win” to a degree. While other publishers boast about how this is just how games are designed, and other old tired excuses that could easily be countered like how it is all a choice, and how it is done to keep costs down.
Personally, I assumed that this type of model would have replaced loot boxes after the Great Loot Box Fiasco of 2017, especially after certain games chose to remove loot boxes entirely. But some massive AAA game companies continue to beat that loot box drum, saying they are the future of gaming, and desperately trying to allow loot boxes to remain legal, while even the FTC is beginning to investigate the dastardly little packages. It’s stuff like this that has led me to becoming immensely disillusioned and disinterested in the AAA game industry, as morally and ethically poor practices like this stain and diminish whatever experience talented and passionate developers could otherwise create.
It honestly strikes me as an unsustainable practice driven by the capitalist expectation for infinite growth over time, which in turn has led to a lot of pressure being placed on employees, despite management clearly being at fault here more often than not. As was exemplified by the overnight demise of Telltale games, a closure punctuated by a lack of experimentation, poor technology, overworked staff, and poor sales above many more issues. All of which ended with hundreds of people being let go with no severance, the rest of the employees being let go thereafter, and The Walking Dead: The Final Season being picked up by another studio. Oh, and of course there was the whole Red Dead Redemption 2 crunch time kerfuffle, which most people seem to have intentionally forgotten in favor of obsessing over their favoritest new cow-person game… no, not that kind of cow-person. That I’d actually be interested in.
This year also marked something of a shift in the portrayal of sex in games. With Valve getting involved in a snafu where they began threatening to delist various lewd anime games from Steam, before throwing up their hands and saying that everything is allowed on Steam, and later going out and indirectly saying that sex is fine unless the game involves very young looking characters. A stance that has also been adopted by Sony, weirdly enough, who had their own saga of denying lewd games from launching on their platforms without revisions. Which coincidentally aligns with them ending production of the Playstation Vita, the ultimate ecchi machine! Godspeed, you lewd little potato!
Microsoft also spent this past year being very quiet all things considered, mostly as a result of them mismanaging projects for years, but while they had very few first party releases this year, they did a lot to increase future prospects about Xbox as a gaming platform. They began bringing over all future exclusive titles to Game Pass. They introduced the Xbox Adaptive Controller, allowing people with physical disabilities to better play and enjoy video games. They had a two–part acquisition of several mid-size developers in an effort to flesh out their first party offerings, which have been pretty weak since late in the Xbox 360’s lifespan. All before announcing xCloud, which aims to bring Xbox titles via a streaming service that I would be and was skeptical of, but if what they have is comparable to Google’s Project Stream, then they might just be onto something.
Meanwhile Nintendo… well, they did not have a great year. It was one that ended with a two-part punch of Pokemon and Smash Bros., but their releases were more staggered compared to the blitz seen in 2017. Overall though, their platform is still doing quite well, the future is looking very promising with regards to their upcoming titles, but being Nintendo, they still operate on moon logic at some points. Sure, they got rid of the Nintendo Creators Program, but they also sued people for millions because they hosted a bunch of ROMs of games they no longer sell, and still don’t sell, because they would rather give people a curated list of games to play, rather than buy. Oh, and the lack of local save backups still irks me.
That covers the bulk of gaming news that I want to dredge back up, but there is one phenomenon that I simply can’t ignore. That of Bowsette. A massive fad that exploded across the internet for a good week and some change before finally receding away, only sporadically revived by various artists, cosplayers, and so forth, likely to never return to the spotlight. Still, it was a really fun time, and the sheer bulk of art that came from it is nothing short of stellar. As somebody who loves TG art and obsessively collects it, it was like having every holiday compounded into one, and multiplied over about 10 days. Though, I am still a bit upset knowing that I inevitably missed some really good Bowsette or other Peachette art, because Pixiv is filled with fecal fetishists, most Twitter content is designed to die, and Tumblr… well, it’s basically worthless now. Also, I stand by my claim that no one can stop the Koopa Queen! Even if she is destined for obscurity at this point.
As for what games I played and reviewed, the quality was all over the board, as to be expected, but there plenty of genuinely good, great, or particularly noteworthy titles that came my way, and as is customary, I think it is appropriate to go through them. Bare in mind, me excluding titles does not mean they are lacking in quality, because if I were to use that metric, this section would be twice as long and as it is… it’s pretty long.
Fire Emblem Heroes: This title was the source for a very strong love-hate relationship for me that I finally ended in March of 2018, as a year of obsessively playing this quality gacha title was more than enough. While I can still respect and admire a lot about the game, and it deserves some credit for sinking away at least 300 hours of my life, I am admittedly glad to be done with this mobile foray… even if I still think about getting back into it every now and then.
Student Transfer 3.0: There are a select few things that I have and will continue to express extreme favoritism towards, and obscenely detailed and intricate visual novels that deal with body swapping, TG, and various other forms of transformation are pretty high up there on the list. Student Transfer has been a steady and reliable standby for a niche of content that I adore dearly, and I am continuously glad to see it receive updates. And even if the game peeters off at this stage, it still has enough content to feel like a complete product. Especially with all the scenarios that have popped up… and yes, I promise to get around to them sometime in 2019… after Version 4 drops.
Finding Paradise: If there was a prominent theme across the majority of entries on this little list of mine, it would be for games that are “almost brilliant.” Games that do so much so well, but do one of a few things poorly, turning what should be a phenomenal experience into either a great or good one. Finding Paradise delivers an emotionally impactful story filled with heart, beauty, and genuine care, but it is somewhat bogged down by overly common comedic interludes and a presentation that really ought to be overhauled in favor of something far more modern. I want to love you RPG Maker, but you make it so gosh darned hard!
Rakuen: Speaking of heartful RPG Maker titles, Rakuen is an absolutely precious little title about a boy in a hospital who travels to a bright and cheery world full of colorful monster friends, and has bountiful potential for brilliance. But some pacing issues and the generally cumbersome nature of its engine left this being a flawed yet beautiful little gem that I initially thought would receive a 3D remake of sorts. Instead it is just getting an adorable series of animated shorts… which is also quite good.
Nier Automata: After sitting on it for a while, I think I can safely put Nier Automata amongst my top 20 games of all time, as it hits all the marks for what I look for in a game. With a story that manages to be complex, engaging, dark, and also quite silly at points. A fluid, fast, and overall fun combat driven by a series of interesting set pieces. An expansive yet manageably large world with a more subdued yet nevertheless strong sense of beauty to it. And a lovely soundtrack that I still listen to on occasion (mostly while studying).
Steins;Gate: An impressive sci-fi fueled visual novel that involves a brief isolated temporal odyssey of sorts punctuated with interesting concepts, strong characters, a distinctive presentation, and a tone that fluctuates between high quality goody anime garbage and an intense science fueled thriller. While the entire experience is a bit marred by a few odd design choices, and a… dated presentation of gender issues, it is easily amongst the upper escallon of visual novels I have played, and something I would pretty strongly recommend. Specifically this version, as Steins;Gate Elite still looks pretty lame to me.
Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair: While I love games with detailed and developed stories, I also love ones that are gleefully dumb and openly embrace the sillier side of the medium, and there are few better examples of this than the Earth Defense Force series. It is a game about killing giant insects in massive toy box environments of repeated assets, ultimately offering an excess of catharsis while housing enough content to choke a person. While I do feel that the game could greatly benefit from expansion in a few key directions, what’s there is still a positively rousing and destructive good time.
Four Horsemen: As yet another “almost brilliant” game, Four Horsemen is a melting pot of unique ideas that aims to tackle sensitive and relevant subject matter that has only gotten more relevant since its initial release. It is driven by delightful characters, a sense of purpose and passion from the developers, and a nice presentation. However, the fundamental structure of the game necessitates an absolutely bizarre form of grinding that really makes me wish the existing content were remixed and streamlined, rather than serving as a more humdrum affair broken between convoluted monotony and a truly excellent little visual novel.
Higurashi: When They Cry Kai Chapter 6 – Tsumihoroboshi: While the delay between titles is kind of crazy and still annoys me, the Higurashi series routinely delivers, and Tsumihoroboshi is certainly up there. With this chapter offering a particularly riveting and suspenseful story that draws upon the expected familiarity the player has with these characters. Amounting to an entry filled with many excellent moments and gripping reveals that left me eager to see things through to the end. Also, I really hope Doddler finishes his work on the next two chapters soon, seeing as how they have been translated and edited for a full year now.
Press-Switch 0.5b: After waiting several years I finally reviewed Press-Switch, and proceeded to ceaselessly gush about it on two separate occasions, and I really cannot help it. Press-Switch is the culmination of just about everything I like about body swapping, TG, and all that malarkey, executed by a man with a sense of drive and passion who routinely leaves me positively giddy with excitement following every ensuing update. With each new update being a miniature holiday for me, and one wherein I need to rush my way through it because, hey, somebody’s gotta make that flowchart.
1BitHeart: If I was asked what my dream game would be, I would probably struggle to settle on a single idea, and need to compartmentalize the ideas into a small assortment of projects. And 1BitHeart certainly comes close to one of those hypothetical dream projects. With its vibrant and energetic presentation. Wide assortment of colorful characters. Numerous influenced and nods to some of my favorite games of all time. Along with a very welcoming tone and a premise all about forging friendships with eccentric weirdos. Yet the execution, balance, and general pacing of the whole affair did not jive with me as well as I wanted. Resulting in 1BitHeart, and its sequel 1BeatHeart, being very good titles that I nevertheless can see copious amounts of unchanneled potentials within.
Super Mario Odyssey: Mainline Mario games are typically treated with a degree of care and polish the likes of which are rarely seen even in bigger budgeted games, and their quality is rarely questioned. And Odyssey is certain indicative of said quality, with the game positively brimming with thoughtful design and the core mechanics being shined to a near mirror sheen. Yet for all of the excitement and joy found in this adventure, I still found it to be more than a minute amount limited by its own desire to spread its finer aspects across a wide canvas. Resulting in an otherwise brilliant game that gradually outstayed its welcome as its numerous challenges and scenarios begin to resemble a checklist.
Timespinner: While I do not cover them as often as I probably should, I have a very soft spot for metroidvanias, as their general design aligns so strongly with what I like from games, that is to say the sense of progression that comes from accumulating power and exploring an expansive world. While not a particularly exceptional entry in the genre, Timespinner is nevertheless and well designed and well rounded title build with a strong understanding of its genre and enough new ideas to feel original and distinctive.
The World Ends With You: Final Remix: I have mentioned on occasion that the World Ends With You is one of my favorite games of all time, and after going through Final Remix, that certainly has not changed. From its spiralling story, eccentric characters, exciting gameplay, and stylish presentation, TWEWY was a very formative game for me when I first played it, and even a decade later, I still love it. With Final Remix serving as a net positive addition to the original title through its reworked gameplay, streamlined systems, and new scenario that takes a lot of what made me love the base game, and cranks it up to 11.
Lily’s Night Off: What happens when you take a cute and quaint visual novel, give it a surprisingly high budget, and proceed to cram it with as much high quality anime style shenanigans as possible? You get Lily’s Night Off, one of the most impressive sequels I have ever seen, as it manages to be funny, surprising, and absolutely gorgeous, near devoid of any potential gripe or grievance I could muster, delivering some of the best two hours of video game funsies I’ve had this year.
Pokemon Let’s Go Eevee: This was a very… conflicting title for me to wrap my head around, delivering what, in many ways, is a very intuitive and enjoyable Pokemon title that does move the series in new positive directions that I overall enjoyed. However, the entire affair all feels bizarrely compromised as if due to a lack of resources, resulting in a game that I ultimately enjoyed, yet feels like a shadow of its true potential. Which fits along nicely with the whole dang theme seen throughout many of the games I reviewed this year.
Anyways, that about covers it for 2018. Thanks to everybody who has stuck with this site, if any of you actually exist, and I hope 2019 brings some good games along with positive developments both in and out of the game industry. Also, reviews will be sporadic for the majority of 2019, as I am going to tackle a bunch of longer games. So, until next time, seeya!
Header image was created by Sugaryacid and the second Bowsette image was created by PixiTales.