My 2019 in Video Games

FFVII_1 It was a pretty okay year for games!

With both the Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X scheduled to release Holiday 2020, 2019 had an interesting mix of “holding pattern” games that felt like they were pushed out to beat the aforementioned console release and games that were genuinely great experiences. I’m finally on break after working throughout the holidays (turns out in Japan, New Year’s is the holiday, not Christmas) and felt like summing up my thoughts and highlighting the games I played in 2019. If you’re inclined to know my number one overall, that’s cool. It’s at the bottom!

Games I Bought but Didn’t Play

I figured I’d start with games I picked up but didn’t get around to playing; please consider these honorable mentions!

  • Luigi’s Mansion 3 (2019, Nintendo Switch)
  • Ring Fit Adventure (2019, Nintendo Switch)
  • Fantal Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age (2006, Playstation 2; 2019, Nintendo Switch)
  • Final Fantasy X/X2 (2001/2003, Playstation 2; 2019, Nintendo Switch)
  • Final Fantasy IX (2000, Playstation; 2019, Nintendo Switch)
  • Final Fantasy VIII: Remaster (1999, Playstation; 2019, Nintendo Switch)

Can you notice a pattern or two?

Most “I Think I Like This” Game

Death Stranding (2019)

Death Stranding

Also: Favorite Post-Apocalyptic Trucking Simulator, Least Favorite Attempt at Trying to be Profound, Best Technical Graphics, Most in Need of an Editor, Mostest-But-Not-Bestest Kojima, Most Regretful Platinum Trophy, Most “Wish I had Cheat Codes”, Most Controller Rumbles, Biggest Unintended Laugh

There’s so much that can be said about this game and to condense my impressions to a few paragraphs won’t do it justice. Kojima Productions first release and Hideo Kojima’s first time truly unhinged gave us a post-apocalyptic United Cities of America compels Norman Reedus Sam Porter Bridges into “making America whole” (building bridges, if you will) by linking the surviving cities into the Chiral Network – an internet of sorts that utilizes a parallel world of the dead and time travel to distribute information. Still with me?

Kojima is as preachy and opinionated as ever but this game has some serious Phantom Menace Syndrome that makes a sporadically paced, obtuse story that much harder to comprehend. I haven’t played it in Japanese but it feels like no one on the localization team was empowered to say “wait what!?” when reviewing the script. The story itself takes hours before it gets interesting and only really makes sense if you spend the time reading through the game’s version of the codex (I consider this a minus for a visual-interactive medium). It does pick up eventually and – perhaps unintentionally – made laugh the hardest in 2019 with one of its, ahem, climatic boss fights.

The game does have its moments and Kojima continues to produce really great emergent gameplay. Once I built my first road and got over 10,000 likes (just like you would on Facebook) my eyes widened. Suddenly I cared about being helpful to players but for the wrong reason: “a bridge here will get me likes” not “a bridge here would benefit everyone” became my thought process. It was the momentum I needed to see through the rest of this game; unfortunately, I thought it was enough to see me through to the platinum trophy. It wasn’t and those final hours were tedious slogs. I was so done with Death Stranding well before it was done with me.

Most Fun to Watch

Dragonball Fighterz (2018)


Also: Favorite Fighting Game, Best Graphics that Resemble the Source Material, Most Combos Dropped

I generally will enjoy watching fighting games over other genres since they “translate” easier. Dragonball Fighterz is probably my favorite fighting game ever and definitely the fighting game I have invested the most of amount of time trying to be in some way competitive. I don’t like versus-style fighting games (usually 3 vs 3, tagging in and out characters on your team) but I love this one! Experimenting with teams is relaxing, learning combos is engaging, and coming back 1 v 3 exhilarating. I bought an arcade stick and have gone to several meetups in Tokyo just to play this game with others. It’s the fighting game the Dragonball license desperately needed and reminded me how much I enjoyed the series growing up.

I found myself keeping tabs on Dragonball Fighterz tournaments as much as I could in 2019. The game is so flashy, and looks so much like the original cartoon, that it was one of my go-to games to watch. As my game-knowledge grew, my ability to watch matches got better and I started enjoying them for more than just “looking cool.” Whether I was watching someone explore a character or the EVO Grand Finals between Sonic Fox and GO1 (pronounced “Go-Ichi”, aka “one” in Japanese), this game has had me coming back more often than I thought any fighting game would and I am 100% okay with it.

Best “Wait-that-came-out-this-Year!?” Game

Final Fantasy VII (1997, Playstation; 2019, Nintendo Switch)


Also: Best “Wait-I-Played-that-this-Year!?” Game, Most Excited for the Remake

I had to double check the date of these screenshots. Not only did I forget that this JRPG came out on the Nintendo Switch in 2019, I also forgot that I played Final Fantasy VII in the first half of May by committing to a near 100% run of the game. I should check and see if there’s a Good Reads for games.

The portability of the Switch version combined with the trainers they pack in (Demi-God mode, instant Limit Breaks, 3X speed, no random encounters) make this a very astute edition of the game and arguably my preferred version going forward. The adjusted translations will annoy the purists who want the re-releases with warts-and-all but for others, this game plays more-or-less how you remember it (or watched your brother play in my case). I did have the game freeze/lock-up on me twice while playing. One of those times cost me about 50 minutes of progress and it’s probably one of the reasons I forgot I played it in 2019.

I’m 50/50 on whether people should play the original before the first part of the Remake comes out in 2020. The trailers have already shown that they are adjusting the story and the gameplay is not the traditional turn based JRPG of the past; rather it’s a promising iteration on the gameplay from Final Fantasy XV. That’s ultimately for you decide and I will say, the Switch version is a good way to experience it.

The Only Mobile Game I Played

Dota Underlords (Early Access, 2019)


Also: Most Difficult to keep up with so I don’t Bother Anymore and Should Probably Uninstall

I spent a rather obsessive month on Dota Underlords in 2019. The Dota 2 spin-off title is part of a relatively new genre called “Auto Battler” where you and 7 other players are given your own chess board to assemble and arrange heroes (the chess pieces, effectively) with their own skills and stats. Once this phase ends, your chess board is assigned another player’s chess board, and the two teams fight each other automatically. Keep winning these duels and you win the game. Keep losing and you’ll end up somewhere between 2nd and 8th!

The game is deep and I liked how much it made me think strategically. Ironically, that was part of my issue with it. Every update fundamentally altered the gameplay to varying degrees which meant I had to relearn the game. There were weeks I really liked it but then some major or minor changes rolled out and soured my experience. Weeks later, more gameplay changes would bring me back. That cycle was fun once or twice but ultimately pushed me away from the game.

Favorite Nintendo Switch Game

Fire Emblem: Three Houses (2019)

FE: Three Houses

Also: Favorite Plane Game, Favorite Dating Sim Strategy Game/Tactical RPG, Favorite Non-Anime Anime Game, Most Fun Cheesing

If I were to have an ordered list, Fire Emblem: Three Houses would have come in second. It has the distinct honor of being the very first game I’ve played for the entirety of a 10+ hour plane trip and I often don’t play tactical strategy games. The RPG aspect makes character building engaging and the units are full-blown characters on top of that. Traditionally, losing a unit in Fire Emblem meant they were gone for the rest of the game; however, as with other recent titles, you can turn that off (and there’s a rewind mechanic so you can get them out of dodge if need be).

I am generally not a fan of how Fire Emblem games in the past treated relationships between characters as a means to improve stats. For me, that sends the wrong message about developing relationships with other people out in the real world. This game is still 60% dating sim when I think 40% would have been the sweet spot; however, between the four main stories, excellent musical score, and character building (for both gameplay and story reasons), I enjoyed nearly every hour I spent on this game. It’s really, really good.

Favorite Star Wars Game

Star Wars Battlefront 2 (2017)


Also: The only First-Person Shooter* I Played in 2019 so it’s the best by Default

I don’t remember much from the Spring of 2019 right but what stands out to me, is that for some reason, I decided to play Star Wars Battlefront 2 (2017) for pretty much all of April. The game has come a far way from its disastrous launch. DICE has been consistently supporting it and even after I stopped playing the game some time in May they were still adding game modes, maps, and classes (to the prequel era). The game is still going strong fairly strong (on Playstation 4) and while I don’t really get involved in shooters much these days, something about this one just kept me playing another multiplayer match. I do wish they didn’t lock all the weapons and gadgets through obscene time commitments and Anakin Skywalker’s abilities are still really annoying to deal with; however, there’s something to be said about just hopping on for an hour and going through flashpoints of the Star Wars universe.

* I know you can play this game in Third-Person but most of my time was spent in First-Person…. never mind that I forgot you could change the camera since Star Wars Battlefront (2015).

Most Likely to Never Finish

XCOM 2: War of the Chosen (2018)


Also: Most Tempting to Save-Scum

Having played Fire Emblem: Three Houses I was still in the mood for tactics/strategy games so I decided to play XCOM 2 for the first time. The new expansion pack, War of the Chosen integrates smoothly into the main campaign so there were times when I didn’t realize I was doing expansion content and that was pretty cool. It’s still XCOM but compared to its predecessor, there are many more timed missions which means you force yourself into bad situations by rushing.

I’m not sure how far I got into the campaign but there reached a point, like in most XCOM games, where I did some quick math and went “hmmm, I think I’m going to fail this campaign in the next few hours based on X, Y, and Z” which ultimately led me to stopping rather than starting over. I do think next time I pick it up, it’ll be with either some cheats or mods that trivialize some of the aspects of the campaign so I can see things through. It was good but I just didn’t feel compelled to finish the fight. Sorry Humanity.

Best Non-committal Game

The Sims 4 (2014)

Sims 4

Also: Best Apartment Decorating Software

I’ve always liked playing The Sims 4 and actually prefer the non-open world they made. 2019 re-introduced magic, university/college life, and tropical islands as additional packs for purchase. I like playing The Sims because I know I can stop in 15 minutes if I needed to. Not many games I played in 2019 have that ability so I appreciated it for that. It’s still The Sims and I still like building up skills and reaching the max level of the career I chose (or rolled a dice to choose) for my Sims.

The MC Command Center mod adds some really nice quality-of-life features like notifications detailing the happenings of the neighborhood which makes you feel much closer to your fellow townsfolk. The Sims 4 is great and I’ll probably pick it up again in 2020 at some point.

Most Fun with Others

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (2018)

Smash Ultimate

Also: Best Smash Bros. Game, Strongest Nostalgia Rush

If left to my own devices, I probably would not play Super Smash Bros. Ultimate anymore. Not because it’s bad (I feel it’s the best one they’ve made) but simply because I had my fill of playing the single player. Thankfully some friends at work regularly play Smash and are not very competitive so it’s nice to just sync up with them and play for an hour every once in a while.

It was the most fun I’ve had playing multiplayer in 2019 and between friends and family back home in the United States, I’ll always carry it around with me on my Switch to play a few rounds on demand.

Favorite Game to Master

Resident Evil 2/Biohazard RE:2 (2019)

Biohazard RE:2

Also: Most Anxiety from a Game, Best Camp, Best In-Game Map, Best Platinum Trophy Experience, Best Looking Burger

I never played any of the original Resident Evil (Biohazard in Japan) games but have many, many, fond memories of watching my brother play them while hiding under my covers. In retrospect, we were probably way too young to play those games. Resident Evil 2 (2019) came out in February and it was confidently my favorite game of 2019 until Fire Emblem: Three Houses came out in late June.

I made it roughly 60% of the way through the game blind thanks to it’s in-game map. Rooms are red until you find everything relevant (ammo, puzzle items) and turn blue when you’ve cleared the area. Combine that with the cheesy camp you get in a few cutscenes and it was enough to keep me really engaged. I do have to acknowledge though: I did reach a point where I wanted to continue but was paralyzed with fear. Trying to figure all of the puzzles out by myself was getting to be too much so I used a walkthrough for the last 40% of the game.

Once I beat the story, I took a deep breath and realized I wanted to replay the whole thing on it’s hardest difficulty in as little time as possible. “Getting good” at this game was one of my favorite things about playing it and I went from 25+ hours to beat the game first try to comfortably beating it in under two. Easily one of my favorite games of 2019 and probably the most fun I had earning a platinum trophy to date.

Game I Bought too Early

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (2019)

Jedi Fallen Order

Also: Best Use of New Yorker Accent, Longest Unskippable Splash Screen

They are still making good video games today but man they can be hitchy sometimes. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is one of those games I wish they spent an extra three months doing nothing but polish because, while it’s a nice looking game that plays fairly well, it’s a technical disappointment. Framerate drops occur too often which is a problem for a Dark Souls like game where timing and momentum have so much significance. Textures and enemies will pop-in from thin-air making the whole presentation a bit… unsatisfying. I still want to play this game but I should have waited for a sale at ~$40 to give the developers time to iron out all the wrinkles. I also want to point out, I was deeply amused by the captain who lets you ride his ship. He was pulled straight out of Brooklyn in both attitude and accent.

Favorite Game I Only Played Two Hours or Less

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (2019)


Also: Most “I need to Improve my Japanese” Experience

RPG? Check. Dark Souls style gameplay? Cautious check. Samurai aesthetic? Sign me up! That was the conversation I had with myself at the local Tsutaya when I decided to purchase Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. I don’t mind a hard game every now and then but I usually need something (like Samurai/Feudal Japan as a backdrop) to rope me in.

Unfortunately, the Japanese copy of the game is only Japanese while the international version is Japanese and English. I still tried to play the game – gave it an honest effort – but notes were taking ten-plus minutes for me to comprehend (Japanese is weird and likes to use context to imply stuff rather than say it). Dialogue was very hard for me to wrap my head around (“wait, is his name ‘Wolf’ or do they just call him wolf – wait – is this a big metaphor?”). Subtitles helped a little bit but I still floundered around going “ummmmm, well I have a marker that says go this way so… I’ll go that way.” I do plan on playing Sekiro but it will require maybe another year of hardcore Japanese studies before I can get through it comfortably.

2019 Game I Most Look Forward to Playing Eventually

Kingdom Hearts 3 Thank you Youtube for the image!

Also: Best Game to Watch the Japanese Trailers

Have you seen Donald Duck speak Japanese? I enjoyed Kingdom Hearts and its sequel but when I found out that Final Fantasy characters were few and far between (making way for more Disney and Pixar properties) in Kingdom Hearts 3, my enthusiasm went down significantly.

I still planned on buying KH3 at release here in Japan but it turns out the Japanese edition does not have any English subtitles. I can read Japanese slowly as pointed out in my Sekiro blurb above, but Kingdom Hearts is notorious for having one of the most convoluted stories in gaming history (and comfortably puts Metal Gear Soild series to shame in that respect) which meant if I wanted any chance at comprehending something during this game, I needed English subs.

I opted to wait until I went to the US to get a copy; sure enough in June they announced a director’s cut called Kingdom Hearts 3 Re:Mind which will include “English support” in the Japanese release. The good news is it’s slated for January 2020 so I don’t have to wait much longer and I am looking forward to putting this series to bed and getting some closure.

Most Japanese Game

Nier:Automata (2017)


Also: Most Unnecessary Open World, Most Anime, Favorite Use of Robots, Most Conflicted

Nier: Automata has been on my list of games to beat for a while now. I finally started earnestly late December and so far it’s been fairly enjoyable. It’s a character action game with some RPG elements (like XP and levels) by Platinum Games and published by Square-Enix. The controls are responsive and tight which is what you need for this type of game and the post-Apocalyptic setting is accentuated by its haunting and downright amazing soundtrack.

The story, so far, seems to be quite layered. I’m going through side quests when I fancy it and as result progress on the story is not fast. In fact, I’d say the side quests hurt the pace of the game significantly to the point where I am not sure the open world is even necessary. I didn’t quite finish the first ending of Nier before the end of the year but I got very close. The problem is that Nier has multiple endings. I’ve heard as many as 26 (one for every letter in the alphabet) and while most of those are said to be superfluous, that still means I’m .8/4-or-5 endings away from truly beating the game.

I also feel the need to address the character design of 2B (come on, Japan) and say that while I do like the game, it’s hard for me to get past both how and what they reveal with her outfit while you play the game. Maybe there’s a reason for it that I have yet to uncover but right now it’s just gratuitous.

Favorite Game of 2019

Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers (2019)


Also: Most Time Spent, Favorite Music, Most Rewarding, Favorite Storytelling, Most Earned/Memorable Moments

When I sat down to come up with this list, I quickly realized Final Fantasy XIV was my number one game for 2019. While the previous expansions, Stormblood (or Crimson Liberators as its much cooler name in Japan), was okay, it’s hard to not shake the feeling that it was basically filler for the release of Shadowbringers (or Jet Black Villans, as its much less cooler name in Japan). I have played a few MMORPGs in my day and Final Fantasy XIV is the first one, I feel, that respects my time.

“Bring darkness to a world polluted with light”, while not original, is a fresh approach for a game where you take on the mantle of “Warrior of Light.” The narrative is extremely compelling, its presentation excellent, the character development cheesy in-a-good-way, and the music – oh the music – serene. When the story drags for an hour or two, it un-drags itself three times as hard. There is so much I can say about the story alone but know that Shadowbringers – without a doubt – earns every moment it goes for.

My only issue is that it’s hard to recommend to people. Since it’s an MMO, you can’t exactly jump in and just “go” since the story has been building upon itself for years now. There’s a lot that gets missed if you try to speed through and reach Shadowbringers content. It’s still really good, full of fan service from all Final Fantasy games and made me appreciate the older, less steampunk-angst driven stories that came out during the Playstation era. It’s just a very daunting task for someone to get into now.

I don’t regret any of the time I’ve put into Shadowbringers. Heck, the reason I started playing Now It’s Awkward’s Most Japanese Game of 2019, Nier: Automata, is because of the collaboration they added these past few months. Shadowbringers does so much right and as a result such a pleasant experience. Shadowbringers is a true triumph.