Was going to write a legit GOTY post until I realized that most of the games I played this year were not from this year. There are a bunch of games that I intend to but haven’t played yet, so this post is probably pointless anyway. Overall it was a pretty good year, could have been a lot worse.
No repeat “winners” for different categories because the point of this post is to spare me from writing a bunch of other posts.
Sakura no Uta
Well I played something like 5 eroge from this year so I don’t exactly have a large pool to choose from, but it was still an incredibly easy choice. I don’t think I can write anything about SakuUta without heavily going into personal experience territory because it struck that close to me. There are cool people who wrote long essays about the work because it’s something that you can take multiple approaches in analyzing, and they can probably say their things far more eloquently and convincingly than I can so go read those if you care (also read the 16k word review on EGS, it’s a good read). SakuUta far exceeds anything else I read that came out this year (and last year, and the year before that, and…okay, most of the good stuff I didn’t read on the year of release, and also came out before 2011), and still lingers on my mind over a month after finishing it. The common route is long and the first two routes aren’t good, but Scaji sure works his magic by the end. I loved the later chapters and the overall structure of the story. The final chapter is especially impressive and cathartic. It’s a response to the concepts presented in Subahibi, even if it looks like something from an entirely different genre and contains none of the denpa “fun” that the earlier work provides.
I sure enjoy eroge where the protagonist’s father is my favorite character.
Soushuu Senshinkan Gakuen Bansenjin
Distant second that suffered hugely from the flaw of trying too hard to be a fandisc over a sequel, but the good parts are really good and it brought upon Nanten, who is Masada’s best heroine. Also Hel is cool and Amakasu is back for the finale, which made it really worth it. It’s a great compliment to Hachimyoujin and makes the first game a lot better with some really great scenes. If they spent less time doing fandisc-y stuff with the Hachimyoujin cast and more on the new content it would have been a lot better. I still need to listen to the drama CD sometime.
BEST CONSOLE GAME:
Utawarerumono -Itsuwari no Kamen-
The sequel to the 2003 eroge Utawarerumono, released over a decade after the first game. I played the first game right before, and thoroughly enjoyed it from beginning to end. It’s a 25 hour game that manages to be more eventful than some 60+ hour RPGs, while still having a fleshed out setting, lovely characters, and great slice of life scenes. Itsuwari no Kamen, designed to be a 2-part story from the start, begins off a lot more slowly with much lengthier slice of life segments. The “real plot” kicks in in the last five hours and the game ends on a cliffhanger, but boy does it get good. Seeing the connections to the first game is a delight as well. The slice of life scenes are high quality and absolutely hilarious, to the point where I didn’t mind the plot not happening or being exposed to hours of drinking and eating (and naked man dancing) before reaching the next battle. I guess I actually love SoL when it’s a fantasy setting. A similar experience to compare it to would be Sora no Kiseki FC, which was like a massive prologue to SC, but the setting and characters are enjoyable on their own so I didn’t mind (except Itsuwari no Kamen is even more enjoyable). It’s insane how I managed to like a game that’s 15 hours of cooking and drinking plus a cliffhanger ending this much. Anyway, with how Itsuwari no Kamen ended, Utawareumono 3 is probably going to be on the same level as the first game or higher in terms of cool shit going down. Someone fastforward my time to September 2016, please.
Also the gameplay is quite solid despite the game being 75% reading and 25% actual battles. The SRPG battles aren’t frequent, and there are points where you do 3 hours of reading before you get to the next fight, but they’re very fun. I did the entire game on Hard and even went on to play through all the post-game maps (which is nearly as many maps as the main game), and am now looking to play all of the Tears to Tiara series because apparently the second game has a similar system. The best feature is turn-rewind, which prevents the frustration of needing to reload a bunch of quicksaves when you realize you made a terrible strategic decision, and the post-game maps are difficult enough to warrant frequent use of the feature. The battle system design takes away a lot of the menu-fumbling clunkiness in typical SRPGs to make way for a super smooth experience, without making the game feel shallow or anything.
Touka was my waifu in Utaware 1 and still is
I wasn’t too fond of the Dusk trilogy in how they handled the flow of the game, so Sophie is a result of them realizing what they did poorly and recapturing what made the Atelier games fun without resetting the mechanics back to the basics like they did with Rorona on the PS3. Sure, the battle system in the Dusk trilogy were a lot flashier and Shallie was basically Mana Khemia, but the various different systems in Sophie come together to work a lot better as a game on a whole. There’s always something to do, unlike Escha&Logy where I actually had to sleep days away to move on to the next story event if I wanted new places to explore, or Shallie which was restricted by the chapter structure. Main complaint is that the plot is just kind of…there, and the characters are mostly “too normal”. The ossan who loves dolls is great and I like Corneria & Sophie, but overall the game lacks the kind of craziness of ~5 years ago. Needs more ネタキャラ, to be honest. I guess that’s my complaint with Shallie and most of Escha&Logy as well, but they had Ayesha’s returning characters to back them up.
Those who liked how Dusk’s setting and flashy battles turned the series into something closer to a normal JRPG will be disappointed, but the game flows a lot more smoothly in Sophie. It’s a comfy and fun game where everything works really well together. They managed to make the game as fun as Totori & Meruru even without the time system, and the hard difficulty makes the game actually challenging. They improved on and added a bunch of elements, and the result is a surprisingly polished game for the first entry in a new subseries (on a new console to boot). Between this and Yoru no Nai Kuni, you can see where the effort went.
THE OTHER CATEGORIES:
Best Eroge I Played This Year That Didn’t Come Out This Year:
Amatsukaze – Ninjas too cool, Akebi best loli ever. Probably my favorite game that I played this year, everything just hit the plot elements I like so well.
Kikaijikake no Eve – I will never forget the feeling of making my first dragon dildo, and how the game seamlessly goes from sci-fi action to absurd dildo factory and back with some crazy battles.
Best Localized Eroge/I didn’t actually play anything localized but there’s something I need to shill:
Ourai no Gahkthun – Has a slow start, but it grew on me and latched onto me a lot harder than expected. The characters are a lovely bunch, and Sakurai probably got possessed by Haganeya when writing the battle scenes because they’re reminiscent of Demonbane. His (her?) way of handling characters is very appealing and reminiscent of older shoujo manga ((s)he cites Revolutionary Girl Utena as one of her influences, along with a bunch of western novels). There’s a very unique flavor to the work that draws in people who don’t normally play eroge, and the series has a disproportionately massive female following. The text employs use of repetition in a way that is never tedious to read, and there’s a lot of cool lines that work due to being variations of the same phrase repeated shortly after another.
Also the hscenes are cute and there’s a lot of coupling moe (especially a certain pair in the fandisk). The downside is that despite the cool special effects and animations used in the fight scenes, Liar-soft’s engine still sucks.
Best Console ADV:
Chaos;Child – A direct sequel to Chaos;Head that uses the established setting very well. I wasn’t too fond of C;H, but I didn’t dislike the concept behind it so I enjoyed C;C. The main route has some very gripping moments that really bring on the tension, and the true route is actually very interesting and I appreciate what they tried to do. There’s a lot of praise from Science Adventure fans towards the game and a good deal who like it as much as or better than Steins;Gate, which was previously considered the peak of the series. I can definitely see why, but at the same time I feel like it still didn’t go far enough with some of its concepts to truly step into the impressive level. I do like the plot and idea behind the true route better than any other game in the series, so there’s that. It’s a neat thing to attempt and probably only possible because it’s a console ADV (don’t think it would ever fly in a modern eroge).
Speaking of execution, the first half basically feels like a better version of Chaos;Head. The protagonist is kind of wimpy on the outside and an elitist on the inside, but he’s also a lot easier to move the plot with and the main characters actually interact so the pacing is a lot smoother and the heroines feel like actual people instead of whatever Chaos;Head had. The second half of the main route is very gripping and while there’s some downtime in the heroine routes (which aren’t that great but do reveal some interesting things — it makes sense because they were handled by the sub writers and there’s one really ridiculous route that was basically added in because they needed one more heroine according to the interview), I basically read the true route in one sitting. I’m glad there’s something good in the series after Robotics;Notes.
Best Otome Game:
Sweet Clown – A very unusual otome game that deserves a more in-depth review but I’m lazy. For once, the 地の文 doesn’t suck and has some semblance of character, and the protagonist is quite possibly the best “passive” otome game heroine I’ve encountered (she’s a lot sharper than she lets on, for example). It’s a game about having tea in a Western-style mansion with a creepy clown who proceeds to go inside you and become a stalker who meets you in your dreams. Just about every character is twisted (and if they aren’t then there is something else wrong with them), including the protagonist. Each route splits into a normal good ending and a “twisted love” ending where the heroine and her guy go on to have an…unconventional romance that disregards everything and everyone else. One of the routes has an ending where they fill the sealed mansion with water and become mermaids because they give no fucks.
Hinose’s lines are a delight to read.
Best Rhythm Game:
Taiko no Tatsujin V – Arguably the most fun I’ve had with a game this year; it’s a rhythm game that actually emphasizes the -rhythm- component, giving you essentially only two types of beats but offering some really challenging patterns. Oni mode is way harder than most handheld rhythm games’ hardest modes. The song list consists of a variety of songs from J-pop, anime, video games, Vocaloid, and originals, including a track from Ys and the Sen no Kiseki opening (+ Sen II opening as DLC). It’s probably the least flashy rhythm game on the Vita given the visuals, but it’s incredibly fun.
Well it’s not like I played any other rhythm games aside from Persona 4 Dancing All Night (decent for fans of P4’s music, but has a short song list and pretty easy) and Superbeat Xonic (Korean rhythm game that is the successor to DJ Max; pretty solid but the difficulty curve is high).
Disappointment of the Year:
Dai Gyakuten Saiban – OK so I didn’t think this was actually a bad game, but it’s definitely the weakest entry in the series with very disappointing cases. It ended on a cliffhanger which pissed off a lot of people, but I don’t really care about that now that I think about it since I just picked a game that ended on a much worse cliffhanger as my game of the year. The main problem I have with the game is that it’s just not a very enjoyable Gyakuten Saiban. The cases are poorly thought out and the climax was hardly a climax since you just don’t get the rush you usually do when solving the last chapter in previous games. The Meiji era London setting doesn’t work too well with the type of mysteries Gyakuten Saiban is known for.
Net High – On the flip side of the coin is a game about having dumb arguments with Twitter celebrities using a system similar to the Gyakuten Saiban trials. Sure it’s too easy and predictable to be a good mystery game, but it gets the blood pumping and has the better silly reactions.
Chuusotsu – I would have never heard of this doujin game if it weren’t for some people shilling on twitter and boy was the trial interesting. The writing feels good to read, the characters are shaping up to be fun, and I’m very interested to see where the plot leads. The extended trial came out at C89 so it’ll probably be a long while before the final product comes out, but you can already see all the effort put into it for a doujin ADV. Time to check out JQV to see Hiruo’s true powers.
Saenai Kanojo no Sodatekata – Maruto’s light novel series that got an anime adaptation. I almost dropped it at volume 1, which was just a bunch of eroge jokes, but changed my mind with volume 2 and never looked back. Volumes 5-7 were great and the Maruto-ness really shines through, and the second arc is shaping up to be quite interesting with its shifts in character relationships. I think Saekano is a rather odd work since Maruto claims to have written it for a younger target audience than his eroge, but it’s also full of topics clearly aimed at people who have stuck with the otaku industry for over a decade and particularly those who have been playing galge/eroge for a while.
Time to play the rest of the games I was going to play this year but never got around to. 2016 is looking to be a great year with plenty of releases throughout the first quarter and also Utawarerumono 3 in September. Definitely looking forward to Ikabey, Kouya, ISLAND and probably Gears of Dragoon 2 as well as Ys VIII. Hopefully I don’t die. The next two terms are rumored to be the hardest terms in my program so I guess I’ll need double the video games to get through this!!