Alex’s Top 10 Games of 2014

It was a fairly weak year. 2014 was filled with broken games, massive disappointments due to outrageous expectations, and sparse few excellent, top-notch games with a positive general consensus. That being said, 2014 was packed to the gills with worthwhile experiences. I could easily list 80 games that are worth playing, and at least 30 that I would consider “great.” So, I have been saying that the year is weak at the top and strong at the bottom. In other words, there were many great games, but few rise above the rest.

Gazing at my personal Top 10 for the year, a couple things become immediately clear. My top 5 games are all mainly there for their strength of narrative. Story is important to me. The interactive nature of video games offers a solely unique experience that cannot be replicated by simply watching something. Feeling like an agent in a game’s world with either immediate or latent results is specific to games, and that is a part of what makes the medium so special to me. The back half of the list (6-10) focuses more on gameplay. These are games after all, and gameplay is still most certainly king, but was the good characters and storytelling that I valued most in the games that I played from the year of 2014.

10. Bravely Default

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One quick honorable mention for Dark Souls II; the decision to cut it was more difficult than the actual game, but it came down to having a worst game of its series in my top 10 or give credit where it is due.

Square Enix finally did something right.  By getting back to their roots, Bravely Default is essentially a Super Nintendo Final Fantasy game in all but name. The game’s deep and rewarding job system allowed for endless amounts of experimentation. Finding the best jobs for each character and seeing the cool outfits went a long way for carrying the game for 40+ hours. Add in a bizarre story with an amazing twist written by one of the minds behind the thrillingSteins;Gate, and you have memorable experience that still occupies headspace 10 months after release.

9. inFamous: Second Son

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There were a lot of action-adventure, open-world games last year, and it wasinFamous: Second Son that I enjoyed the most. I rarely replay games, and I played through Second Son twice. Part of that is due to how little side content was available, but though there was not a ton to do, what was there was an absolute blast. The core gameplay was tight, the powers were fun to play around with, and the game was gorgeous. Of course, the game is not without its problems, but many of the games that came after it were disappointing leaving inFamous near the top of my list of games for 2014. Bottom line:Second Son is just fun and that was enough.

8. Bayonetta 2

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Many games from 2014 inspired mixed feelings. Bayonetta 2 is one of those for me. I typically value a game’s originality and innovativeness in a Game of the Year list, and Bayonetta 2 does not offer much different from the original other than a haircut.

The first Bayonetta is easily one of the best of its kind, and Bayonetta 2 is more of what made the first game excellent. The character-action game is one of my favorite genres and Bayonetta 2 is not only the best one of 2014, but joins the Platinum elite as one of the pinnacles of action games. The story is a joke and the characters are terrible, but the silky smooth action and insane happenings on screen still make for one of the best experiences of the year.

7. Super Smash Bros. for WiiU

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The 3DS version of Smash 4 murdered my hype for the WiiU version. We already knew what was going to be in it, and there we were stuck with an inferior version of essentially the same game. If it wasn’t for it being on 24/7 in the apartment, I’m not sure where Smash would have landed on this list. I kept playing and playing it though. Eventually, my love for the series reemerged, whether it was due to the 8-player chaos, ridiculously challenging amiibos, or lovable cast of new characters, Smash had me wrapped around its finger again by the end of the year.

6. Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky

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Atelier Escha & Logy was my first Atelier game, and it seems that I have been missing out. The two previous games in the series have remakes that have either been announced or are already out with the improvements that Escha & Logy added. I’m not sure how much better Escha & Logy is over the other entries, but I do know that it is fantastic game that made for one of the freshest gaming experiences I had in 2014. The diversity of gameplay and emphasis on time management made it an addictive formula that I couldn’t pull myself away from. The characters are interesting, but overarching story is little on the weak side. Mechanically, Escha & Logy is near perfect in my book. If developer, Gust, can tell a worthwhile tale simultaneously, we’ll have a real contender on our hands.

5. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

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I had high expectations for Danganronpa due to the pedigree of the developer. Spike Chunsoft has crafted some of my favorite games (999, Virtue’s Last Reward), and we were fortunate enough to get two masterworks from them this year, plus the decent ATLUS published Conception II. Danganronpadelivered on my expectations. Though, it’s probably not as good as their Zero Escape games, Trigger Happy Havoc takes much of what makes those games great and injects an enormous amount of personality, dark humor, and excellent music. It is the oddball personalities of characters, the strength of the game’s antagonist, and mystery surrounding Hope’s Peak Academy that propels players through this delightfully dark adventure.

4. The Wolf Among Us

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I didn’t think TellTale could top their work on The Walking Dead, and The Wolf Among Us might just do that. The two games are good for different reasons. I feel that The Wolf Among Us tells a much more cohesive and satisfying narrative, but The Walking Dead S.1&2 are chock full of memorable moments and painful choices. Both games are a win for the developer and here’s to hoping they can keep up their momentum, which is certainly no easy task. The Wolf Among Us comes together so beautifully, tying together all the past decisions of the game into one climatic showdown that other games of this type need to take note of how well the finale is executed.

3. Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair

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That’s right; these games are good enough to take two spots on my top 10 list. Though it was tempting to combine them to make space for another game, each Danganronpa game is enough to stand against the best of what the triple “A” side of the industry has to offer.

Danganronpa 2 edged out the first game for me for just how good of sequel it is. It knows what you know, it knows what you expect, and it will abuse those expectations with no mercy. Outside of maybe Metal Gear Solid 2, I don’t think I have played a game that manipulates its player’s thoughts and emotions so well. It is impressive what has been done with Danganronpa 2, and it easily one of the weirdest and most engaging game stories I have yet to encounter. Some nice gameplay additions, a streamlined investigation phase, and a great remixed soundtrack make Goodbye Despair something everyone needs to say hello to.

2. The Banner Saga

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For a while there, I thought the first game of 2014 that I beat was going to be my favorite. It was close. The Banner Saga presses a lot of the right buttons for me. A unique turn-based strategy system with a heavy emphasis on risk and reward? Check. An amazing story with strong characters, multiple endings, and branching dialogue options? Check (X3). A stunning art style paired with a soundtrack from a Grammy-nominated composer?  You bet.

What made The Banner Saga so memorable for me though was how brutal it was in theme, mechanically, and through its story and choices. Do you upgrade your favorite character to make the battles easier or save your renown to buy food and keep the caravan’s numbers up? That is only one of the multitudes of decision on offer in The Banner Saga, and none of them are easy, but oh, are they endlessly intriguing.

1. Dragon Age: Inquisition

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Well, after thinking on it, 2014 has been the easiest it has ever been for me to choose my Game of the Year. Dragon Age: Origins is one of my favorite games of last generation, and I’m one of those weirdos that actually likes Dragon Age II, so maybe it was inevitable for Dragon Age: Inquisition to take my top honors for the year.

There was no question about it. With most triple “A” titles being at least somewhat disappointing, it was easy for Dragon Age to emerge the victor. Nothing can match its scale, depth of gameplay, strength of characters, story, and breadth of its world. If you take on individual pieces, sure, Dragon Age is not the best. I’d take Atelier on pure gameplay. I’d want Danganronpa’s cast.Guilty Gear Xrd’s soundtrack is awesome. But when taken as a whole, nothing is even on Inquisition’s level, nothing can compare, and nothing comes close.

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