As the two posts I previously wrote on Final Fantasy VII this year alone can attest to, the adventures of Cloud and friends from Square-Enix have held a special place in my heart for over two decades. With an (at the time) absurd 50+ hours of side quests, monster battles, and world saving, this epic made quite the lasting impression on my former tween self. While I've loved many Final Fantasy games since then (special shout outs to VIII, X, and XV), none stands out quite as much in my game loving heart. For the past five years since it was initially announced way back in 2015, Final Fantasy VII Remake has oscillated in my brain between sky high expectations and trying to put my guard up to shield myself from the inevitable disappointment. So, did the remake gods manage to pull it off or were my hopes crushed like poor Sector 7 under the weight of Shinra's greed?
All you need to know about the recently released remake of 1999's Resident Evil 3: Nemesis can be found in a five word exchange that occurs about a third of the way through the main campaign. Just as the game's protagonist and proven action hero, Jill Valentine, has seemingly escaped the clutches of Raccoon City's apocalyptic zombie outbreak aboard a subway train headed for safety, the back of the train is abruptly pulled off in a glorious display of strength and bad-ass flames by the Umbrella Corp's bioweapon du jour, the titular Nemesis. With all hope seemingly lost, a grizzled old mercenary, whose name escapes me because it was never important, defiantly utters the sure to be iconic line "Get off my train, shitbird" before heroically sacrificing himself and buying Jill some time via suicide bombing. Truly the bard himself could have never concocted a more beautiful turn of phrase, and peak Schwarzenegger couldn't have hoped for a more fitting sendoff.
After surviving 60 hours of brutally punishing bosses in Bloodborne, my first instinct was to move on to some far less stressful and easier, breezier fare. In the ensuing days, every time I booted up my PS4, I saw that Bloodborne icon and tried desperately to convince myself not to give into the temptation of initiating a sadistic New Game+ run just to see how skilled I had become. For a few nights at least, I kept the siren's calls at bay, but the following Saturday night while bored, I thought "What could possibly be the harm?" in checking out the latest FromSoftware Opus, Sekiro, which had been sitting on my Playstation since a super holiday sale last year. This compromise of playing something new would surely placate my desire for a challenge and allow me to move on with my gaming life. Naturally, this quick peak into the world of Sekiro soon blew up into a month of repeatedly dying until I could once again add another gaming badge of courage to my collection that can only come from defeating a Soulsborne game.
The true highlight of any FromSoftware game is its massive and crushing boss battles. With each passing boss, I found myself more and more absorbed in the game's intoxicating cycle of death and learning. There's an unbelievable sense of accomplishment that comes from finally adapting to a boss's patterns and besting them after they've taken so many lives from you that makes the hours of building yourself up and cursing the nightmare of Yharnam worth it.
One of my earliest fantasies in life was becoming a wise and powerful Jedi. While wearing out the assorted VHS tapes we had the original Star Wars trilogy recorded on, I'd imagine myself engaged in death-defying combat featuring the greatest fictional weapon ever created - the lightsaber. There may have been an overwhelming likelihood of enduring a lost weapon and severed hand or two for most lightsaber users that not even a WiiMote strap could remedy (cc: Binge Mode), but an artificial appendage seemed like a small price to pay for an instrument so perfect. As science and my general clumsiness have not yet caught up to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, my only true outlet for lightsaber twirling Jedi-dom has been in the world of video games. Respawn Studios's latest release, Indiana Jedi and the Temple of Miktrull Jedi: Fallen Order, is a glorious amalgamation of a multitude of game types ranging from Uncharted crossed with Metroid Prime-style exploration to Dark Souls style fighting. Almost all of the myriad facets come together for one of the most enjoyable games of the year, but, above all else, the true highlight of Fallen Order is how good it feels to wield a lightsaber.
Despite having not played a Hideo Kojima game since the original Metal Gear Solid back in 1998, I decided it was time to break that lengthy drought by picking up the new social media/gig economy/Norman Reedus simulator, Death Stranding, so I could see just how weird the preceding two decades had made the gaming world's most notable auteur. Within an hour, all of my wildest hopes for pure video game absurdity had been met thanks to a crying baby attached to my suit and Academy Award winning director Guillermo del Toro informing me that he stole my fluids while I was unconscious to study them. If I had hit the power button then and never returned, my investment would've been worth it, but fortunately I kept going and soon discovered the true draw and greatest achievement of Death Stranding - the links between all the players undertaking this massive journey together.
This year has had its fair share of great games, but it has been seemingly devoid of the type of era-defining classics that made 2018 and especially 2017 such amazing years. Fortunately, this recession to the mean trend was bucked by the mesmerizing sense of adventure and call to exploration provided by Outer Wilds, the most memorable game of 2019 by far. While unraveling the mysteries of the universe on both macroscopic and quantum levels in between countless rounds of hilariously dying in unfortunate space mishaps or being engulfed in the Sun going full on supernova every 22 minutes, Mobius Digital's adventure game for the ages captivated my gaming senses by empowering me with the freedom to craft what feels like my very own adventure, unique from what anyone else will experience.