I Am Setsuna (PS4): Though I love a good open-world RPG, I had been itching to play something decidedly more old school. Instead of just replaying Chrono Trigger for the thousandth time, I gave Square Enix’s I Am Setsuna a try. It’s definitely a love letter to 16-bit SNES JRPGs with its super deformed character designs and active-time battle system. Although the story was a little bland, it did have touching moments from time-to-time and the all-piano soundtrack was beautiful and melancholy. The entire game takes place in a snow-covered country and the blizzardy locales imparted a sadness and desolation not seen in other RPGs. For fans of retro gaming, it’s worth picking up.
Rez Infinite (PSVR): Sony released their PlayStation Virtual Reality peripheral this year to mostly positive reviews. I know, I know—Rez isn’t a “new” game, but I’ll be damned if VR isn’t the perfect way to experience it. New to this edition is Area X, which is an area that has been completely retooled for VR and has a different control scheme. You can move your character any direction and explore the environment from any angle. Words cannot describe how absolutely breathtaking and gorgeous this level is as it uses particle effects to the fullest extent possible. I am not kidding when I say I was moved to tears by the experience and it stands as one of the most memorable gaming moments of my life. Area X is the future of VR gaming and its capabilities.
Doom (Various Consoles): The most surprising game experience of the year for me was Doom. While I had played the earlier iterations that have come out, I was not prepared for how kick ass and polished this newest “reboot” ended up being. The gameplay is lightning fast and visceral with each fire fight being a straight up adrenaline rush. The graphics were breathtaking with the Hell levels depicted in all their horrifying glory. The sound design and music were amazing too thanks to Mick Gordon’s stellar compositions. Doom proves that single-player story-driven first person shooters are not dead.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (Various Consoles): Unfortunately, the newest Metal Gear Solid game was overshadowed by Kojima’s very public falling out with Konami. That’s too bad, because The Phantom Pain is one of the most compelling and realized games in the franchise. We get to see how Big Boss became the man that he was which fills in quite a bit of backstory in the Metal Gear lore. The stealth gameplay is silky smooth and the new open-world element is a blast to explore. I do wish they hadn’t went with the decision to cut the missions into so many smaller chunks, but that’s a small quibble in the scheme of things. This is most likely the swan song of the franchise so respect Kojima’s years of blood, sweat and tears and give it a go.
Final Fantasy XV (Various Consoles): I am a huge fan of the Final Fantasy franchise, but after FFX I found myself becoming disinterested in the path that the games were taking. FFXV was in development hell for a long time and my hopes weren’t high. However, the reviews started pouring in after release and it turns out that Square Enix listened to some of the criticism they have been getting over the years. This time we have four male protagonists: Noctus, Gladios, Prompto and Ignis. My fears were assuaged after playing the opening ten minutes of this game, watching those four young men push their broken down car to the tune of “Stand By Me” tugged at my heartstrings. It’s refreshing to see some levity and happiness in a JRPG, and the bond these guys share is palpable and endearing. Though there are still some technical and story pacing issues with this game, it’s a promising step in the right direction for Square Enix.