There were many places we got to visit in 2019. Some familiar, others brand new and others entirely bizarre and uncanny. They all brought with them new adventures and new stories to tell and when the time came for them to end, we always felt that little bit of sadness and emptiness inside, like we had gotten so used to being surrounded by these characters and their worlds that it was difficult to let them go and we just didn’t know what to do with ourselves afterwards. On a personal level, these are the worlds I visited and the experiences I gathered from within the gaming world in this past year.
Kingdom Hearts 3
Kingdom Hearts 3 was the first epic game to be released this year and was a title that had been anticipated for over ten years by some. That in and of itself gave it a very heavy burden from the start to live up to the great expectations many fans had created in their minds. Yet Sora’s adventure paid off big time. Although a little held back by the Disney worlds that felt like they needed to be in the game purely for advertising and marketing purposes (even though some brought along with them a series of highly entertaining mini games), the “meat” of the story is still enough to satisfy the appetite of even the most hardcore fan, with some especially heart-wrenching moments that will have you cheering, crying and any other emotion in between. Sadly it is not a game that can easily be recommended to anyone that is not a fan of the series and even those who are casuals and have only played the mainline titles will have a really hard time keeping up with everything that’s going on. But the colors and music tie in to the different worlds spectacularly and if anything else, it’s truly a joy to watch the gang of Sora, Donald and Goofy jumping around from place to place as they get into their little antics. The DLC Re:Mind that is coming at the end of January feels like a necessary addition for some questions left unanswered by series director Tetsuya Nomura, although knowing him it’ll probably just lead to more riddles.
Devil May Cry 5
Devil May Cry 5 will get you psyched like hell thanks to the incredible audio tracks and the now-legendary voice of Johnny Yong Bosch. Unfortunately it also includes an unnecessarily convoluted battle system that instead of getting easier, only gets more complicated the more skills you acquire, and a disappointingly short story line. Some twists here and there might get you invested in all that’s happening but sadly the feeling doesn’t stay for very long as the credits roll shortly afterwards. There was a lot of wasted potential here, although I feel that this is the formula this saga has stayed with since the beginning and it has worked for them all along, so you can’t really blame them for sticking to what they know works. The game was apparently liked by the fans so at the very least they got what they wanted, which is rare.
Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers
This latest expansion saw the highly-acclaimed MMO soar to new horizons and received praise from both critics and players alike. Featuring one of the most interesting story lines to ever come out of either a single or multi-player role-playing game, Shadowbringers invested heavily in the legacy of its unique characters, while creating a whole new world for their drama to unfold in. Both the Crystal Exarch and Emet-Selch are incredible new additions (although not technically…) and tie in well with the Scions, while the secrets that are revealed go all the way back to 2.0! That was released in 2013, just as a reminder.
The new Trust system was also a welcome addition for anyone who only wanted to join the ride purely for the main scenario and avoid getting into too much hassle with other players who might seem a bit too competitive, while further additions to the battle system (new jobs like Dancer and Gunslinger) took things a step beyond. Shadowbringers will grab your curiosity then slowly yet carefully weave a line of interesting plot points as it masterfully delivers the huge payoff towards the end. And it’s all done with such respect towards the large amount of time some players have invested in this title, like an expression of gratitude by the creators.
It would be a while until I played something original in 2019. I must admit, I played Control, but I thought it was a convoluted mess of a game with a frustrating level of difficulty, so I returned it. Then along game November. We had been waiting for the new title by the creative genius known as Hideo Kojima for almost six years now. But boy was it worth it! Death Stranding sets a new standard for storytelling, video game acting, game play, music… almost everything here shouts “next level”. And the new “Strand” system worked so well! Where an area would be empty and desolate before, now there would be bridges, roads, places to recharge your vehicle or anything to help get you out of this BT-infested world. It sort of makes you want to give a little something back. So every time I walked out of a bunker to deliver a new package, I would always remember to take one of those little PCCs in order to construct something of my own and help out those who might need it. And that’s how you create a better world, with everybody chipping in a little bit at a time.
That’s a truly positive message for any medium to be able to get through! As for the story, I wasn’t really able to make heads or tails of it up until the end if I’m being honest. Just “go west” is all I thought I needed to do. But boy, that ending, it really sticks with you! No offense to all the other video game actors out there, they do a great job, but these people here are professionals and it’s so blatantly obvious! Mads Mikkelsen is the best thing we’ve seen in a long time (if not ever!) in a video game performance. He soars high above the rest of the cast and only Tommie Earl Jenkins’ monologue comes close. Of course, that’s not to say that all other actors here did a bad job: Lindsay Wagner, Margaret Qualley, Troy Baker, Lea Seydoux, they all deliver their lines with such finesse. I felt like I was border-lining between a weird sci-fi movie and a cult European film at times. The only character who I thought was sub-par was the main man himself: Norman Reedus. He felt off, like he was constantly bored or unimpressed by everything that was transpiring around him. He was the wrong choice for the role, although it’s difficult to turn down an actor of his stature, but if Kojima personally picked him out, it seems a little… off. But that wouldn’t be the first thing that’s off in a game about killer black whales, blood bombs and umbilical cords! Did I mention that the graphics were unreal? After the credits rolled and a series of cut scenes unfolded, I began to lose the line between video game graphics and reality. It was that good! The fact that this title was (and still remains) so diverse among fans and critics is in my opinion another one of Kojima’s great achievements. He created something that was so beyond everyone’s expectations, they don’t even know how to process it.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
A first true single player game to come out of this larger-than-life franchise in this console generation that features a unique story. About time! While initially my jaws almost dropped to the floor thanks to the amazing backgrounds of Imperial airships and crazy lightsabers floating around, after a while I began to lose my patience. What was I doing? Hunting the universe for a cube that contains a list of padawan’s names that Anakin forgot to slaughter during his emo phase? Okay… Not much to go on in regards to a motive. The game play was also a little frustrating (especially with slopes or any type of Uncharted-esque sequence) as I needed to time my jumps perfectly lest I go back to the beginning! Glitches were also a thing (in 2019? really?) as there were several occasions were I might attempt to jump onto a wall or just walk somewhere, only to see my character float right through to his untimely demise. But there were also many good things to be found in this game, apart from the visuals and music.
Of course, I adored the experience of entering a new world as it ironically seemed out-of-this-world for me, but by far the most rewarding thing to come out of this title were the battles. In this game, you unlock new skills that you can use during combat and they become not only useful, but highly necessary tools for your survival. This game pushes you to become better. Even at it’s easiest, it’s unforgiving. And once you reach that level and you’re in the stage with some of the stronger enemies, the entire sequence seems less of a fight and more reminiscent of a dance. You need to keep up with their rhythm, follow their movements closely, observe everything they do like a hawk and respond accordingly. Their strikes hurt bad and you can’t afford to take more that three or four of them, plus most difficult bosses have a second stage where they add even more moves to their arsenal, so you need to be prepared for that. It’s so thrilling, it’s difficult to put into words. You might fail time and time again but when you finally get that sweet taste of victory, it makes you feel like it was all worth it. When I started this game I had only seen the lightsabers in the movies but after it was done, I felt like a full-fledged Jedi ready to take on the Empire!
Those are all the most impressive gaming experiences of 2019 for me personally. Of course there were other titles that I had the opportunity to play this year but were released a few years prior (most notably among them was Dragon Quest XI: Heroes of an Elusive Age, a title that helped me recapture my long lost interest for the JPRG’s of the old days) or titles that I tried out but simply couldn’t find any interest in (Control, Ni No Kuni: Wrath Of The White Witch Remastered). All in all, it was a great year, but considering what’s ahead of us in 2020, this current generation of consoles has yet to sing its magnum opus. We’re in for the ride of our lives!