Through the rest of December and into early January, we're going into hibernation. But every day, we'll have a new podcast for you to listen to, and sometimes, an article to read. You can keep track of everything we're talking about to look back on the past year (and decade) right here.
Oh, hello there. It’s me. Your old friend. I’m back for a short while to share the news. The news of good video games. So, pull up a chair and listen to me wax on some of my favorite games of the year.But before that, I should probably set the stage about my own2019. Almost halfway through the year, I made a tough decision: I left Waypoint.
My relationship with games shifted after leaving. I didn’t mean for it to happen. Suddenly, I was no longer being held accountable for keeping up on all the latest releases. Nobody was asking me what I thought about the games I was playing.
I began to grow existential about this shift. I felt like I couldn’t keep up. I was frustrated by how difficult it was for me to complete games, and often found myself bouncing from title to title. It wasn’t like I didn't enjoy what I was playing, I was just incapable of sticking with anything.
There is, however, one game, that deserves a special shoutout. A game I did beat this year. On stream. With all of you. I wrote about Bloodborne for my top 10 list last year, but getting those end credits during SavePoint this year was one of my fondest memories of Waypoint all together. Thank you for that.
I played (and loved) a lot of the games on the list, I just didn't finish many of them. One of them brought me back to (gamer) life, and did so much for reinvigorating my interest in games in general. After a weird year with games, I’m actually really looking forward to 2020’s lineup. It feels like a fresh start.
Honorable Mentions: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen, Baba Is You, World of Warcraft Classic, Final Fantasy IX, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer.
10. BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL!
The last review I wrote for Waypoint was for BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL! and, lo and behold, it’s also happens to be the first game on my top 10 list this year. Having a go-to puzzle game to play in between some of the more reflex intensive games in my library is always a must. Usually, it’s a picross/nonogram style game. This year, it was BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL!
I was surprised I kept playing BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL! long after writing my review for it. It was just difficult enough to keep me challenged, but not so difficult that I ever felt discouraged from playing. Each new world encouraged you to consider the ways different puzzle mechanics could work together. Plus, it has its very own gatcha game—which, y’all know I love a good gatcha game. But...more on that later.
9. Beat Saber
I had the chance to play Beat Saber for the first time this past SavePoint. Well...actually, it was SavePoint Eve. After a long day of putting together the set, the Waypoint team went out for family dinner. And drinks. We decided to head back to the VICE offices to make sure the stream was working, and somehow we ended up live. Somebody handed me a PSVR headset and some Move controllers, and long story short, multiple coworkers had to ask me to take off the headset so they could finally go home for the night.
I picked up Beat Saber again after my boyfriend bought an Oculus Quest. I was surprised how much of my saber skill sustained after all those months apart. If you’ve ever enjoyed a rhythm game before, you know just how hypnotic doing something to a beat can be. In Beat Saber, that feeling is multiplied by approximately a thousand. When I play Beat Saber, there is no one else—just me, my sabers, and hundreds of boxes rapidly flying towards my face, as it should be.
8. KINGDOM HEARTS Union χ [CROSS]
I think my exact words after finding out there was a Kingdom Hearts gatcha game were: “Shut the fuck up.” It definitely happened on an episode of Lore Reasons, so someone out there can fact check that.
What’s more important, however, is what I did after finding out about KINGDOM HEARTS Union χ [CROSS] which was: research all of the Foretellers to figure out whose Union I wanted to join, take a quiz to see which Foreteller I was most like, and then, only after I was sure I was definitely an Ava and therefore should obviously join the Vulpes Union, did I download the game.
Union χ quickly fell into my daily routine. I was playing it constantly—during lunch breaks, after work, and especially before bed. Seeing all the friends I made from my time studying for Lore Reasons meant I always had a big, goofy (lol) smile on my face. The problem was, I never really understood what I was supposed to be doing in Union χ. I moved as quickly as I could through story quests, of which there are currently uhhh...almost 900? I knew that things weren’t going to start getting interesting until around the 700s. I managed to make it up to quest 212 before falling off.
I did one important thing in that game before other games began to take its place: starting the Lore Reasons guild. Shoutouts to everyone who joined that, and extra special shoutouts to those of you still playing. One day I hope to pick it back up, perhaps more casually that I started it, and finally complete my Kingdom Hearts lore compendium, once and for all—or, at least until Kingdom Hearts 3.5.
7. Super Mario Maker 2
Last year’s list had a lot of firsts for me. I’ve talked extensively over the past two years about falling in love with games that I never thought were meant for me—most notably, games like Bloodborne and Hollow Knight. This year brought a very unexpected addition to that list: Super Mario Maker 2.
I never played Super Mario Maker, and honestly, I had no intention of even getting Super Mario Maker 2 when it came out. My boyfriend picked it up, and I started to get kind of jealous of how much fun he was having with it. He encouraged me to try levels that he had beaten or created, and eventually I came around to getting the game for myself.
After blazing through the story mode, I discovered the perfect cross section of levels: the levels tagged “Short and Sweet” and “Speedrun.” Most of these levels were under 30 seconds, which meant it wasn’t that much of a drag to repeat them if I died (which I did, a lot), and they were easily sharable to Twitter. Which led to tweets like this, this, and this.
The time limits meant I didn’t have even half of a second to spare to second guess myself, which gave way to me learning how to completely trust the mechanics of the game itself. I began to recognize how platforming mechanics and design were actually working harmoniously, instead of how I often felt playing platformers, where they can feel at odds with each other. Here’s hoping that these revelations can translate towards some of the other platformers I’ve been at for ages. I’m looking at you, Celeste.
6. Home Is Where The Hearth Is
At the beginning of this year, I took up Waypoint’s Free Play column, where we talked about rad games you could play without having to pay a dime. It was one of my favorite things I did at Waypoint, even if my itch.io catalogue quickly grew faster than I could find time to write.
I played InfectedByte’s Home Is Where The Hearth Is on a whim. I didn’t expect it to bring up the feelings it did. I wrote about them here. It was extremely cathartic to write about, especially given how private I had kept those feelings.
After reading this list, if you do anything, go to itch.io. Spend some time perusing the Free Games category and spend an hour playing some stuff. If you’re looking for suggestions, head to the Free Play column archive linked above, or check out Kat Brewster’s excellent and important column, Priceless Play. It’s the best reminder of just how good games really are.
5. Titanfall 2
It wouldn’t be my GOTY list if it didn’t have at least ONE game that didn’t come out this year, and this year’s old-game-that-I-finally-got-around-to-playing is Titanfall 2.
If you haven’t played Titanfall 2 and you have even a remote interest in first-person shooters, PLEASE try it. It often goes on sale or is offered for free with things like PlayStation Plus. I bet I’m not the first person to tell you to play this game, but in case you needed a reminder: Play. This. Game.
I cannot emphasize enough how good it feels to move in Titanfall 2. It’s fluid, yet directed. The game forgives your miscalculations, but continues to encourage you to be more efficient. I’ve only ever played the campaign, which is incredibly robust for its being relatively short (it took me about eight or so hours to complete).
You can play it in a weekend. I can almost guarantee you will fall in love with it like I—and countless others—did.
4. Luigi’s Mansion 3
I’m a dedicated Luigi’s Mansion stan. I’ve played the first one a few times, on both GameCube and 3DS, and even 100-percented Dark Moon. When Nintendo announced Luigi’s Mansion 3, I couldn’t believe God had actually heard my prayers.
When I first played Luigi’s Mansion for GameCube, I was six. I mostly watched my brother play it. That first mansion felt huge to me, with endless sets of rooms and hallways to explore. Walking into the hotel in Luigi’s Mansion 3 felt similarly imposing. There’s an opulence, a sort of decadence, to the Last Resort. There’s an excess of everything. And damn, does it feel good to destroy all of it. It’s like playing a LEGO game—you can smash, break, and destroy, and sometimes, you’ll get arbitrary money for it. That said, even though Luigi’s Mansion 3 doesn’t always reward you for your damage done with a collectible, it almost always acknowledges it.
To me, the game is at its best when played with two people. Some of the more notoriously (and unnecessarily) difficult bosses were much easier to deal with 2v1. As Gooigi, I would essentially tank the bosses and continuously respawn, putting my boyfriend in the perfect position to immobilize our opponents with a flash. It was so much fun solving puzzles together, we were constantly discovering little secrets that led to collectibles. The game kept us both consistently engaged and delighted, no matter who we were playing as. Except I was always Gooigi. Always. Gooigi.
If you’re looking for a holiday couch co-op game, look no further than Luigi’s Mansion 3.
3. Apex Legends
Crucial to my Apex Legends experience, I think, is the fact that I only played it if I was playing with friends. Playing with randos was never really worth it to me. I wasn’t good enough to keep up with the good players, and also wasn’t good enough to carry a weak team. I think I’m pretty good at communicating though, which made me a great team player for my friends. (Friends, please confirm.) Playing mostly as Lifeline, a healing-focused character, I always felt useful to my teammates, even if I wasn’t keeping up with everyone else’s kill count.
I have to credit most of my fun Apex times to Colin Joyce, formerly of Noisey. I got my first win with Colin and Waypoint’s very own Joel Fowler, and it was beautiful. I’m pretty sure all of my wins have been with Colin.
Apex became Colin and I’s go-to bonding game, and we’d often spend hours after work or on the weekends just gaming and chatting. Colin always invited me to play with his friends, and never got mad when I choked in the final round. He also taught me that even though getting first place is fun, getting better is more fun. He would always point our team towards firefights in the distance, encouraging me to engage with enemy players when my battle royale strategy had always been to find somewhere to hide until the last round and hope you get lucky with drops along the way. Turns out, playing against other people really does make you a better player yourself. Colin is a great friend to game with, and he is very good at Apex.
Also, Natalie Wattson is named after me and no one can convince me otherwise. It is my gaming legacy and I will die on this hill.
2. Final Fantasy XIV
So, we’ve finally arrived to the mystery game I mentioned at the top: the game that revived my love for games this year. I’m sure anyone that follows my Twitter could have guessed this was the game I was alluding to, but yes, it’s Final Fantasy XIV.
I’ve only just reached Heavensward, and while there have been a few key story moments that have really moved me, most of what I love about FFXIV is the experience playing it.
I started playing FFXIV in late September. It’s been almost three months to the day since I’ve started playing, and I’ve accumulated um, a lot of hours. I’ve made new friends playing FFXIV. I’ve bonded with old ones. This game has given me so many stories to tell, mostly ones about how many times I’ve replayed the A Realm Reborn campaign.
It’s relaxing when you want it to be, yet it can also be stimulating. If I want something I can do while listening to “lofi hip hop radio - beats to relax/study to,” there’s FFXIV. If I want something a little bit more exciting, say, something I can listen to “Jopping” by SuperM to, there’s FFXIV. Also, FFXIV genuinely has its own sick music throughout most of the game. Like this bop that came up during a terrible dungeon the other day. That’s right, FFXIV also has some stuff that’s not fun! That’s what happens when you’re me and you’re stuck playing all the content from several years ago just to catch up. But I’m totally okay with it, because the beautiful thing about FFXIV is that you can mostly just do what you actually like.
I get a lot of satisfaction from playing as a healer—going between keeping my party members’ health bars up, removing debuffs, and doing damage when I can feels like operating a an invisible machine. If I pull each lever in front of me at just the right times, the machine will keep running. Sometimes the machine goes haywire in unexpected ways, but if I just—*pull* *pull* *pull* *pull*—everything will be okay.
I don’t see myself slowing down with FFXIV anytime soon. It was only of the only big games I’ve been able to stick with this year, and I think that’s mostly because playing FFXIV feels like a good brain massage. For every task, no matter how small, there is some reward. And in a time in my life where doing even the smallest of real life tasks seems sometimes impossible, it’s really nice to be able to count on FFXIV giving me the consistency of knowing exactly what is expected of me and what my actions can produce.
1. Kingdom Hearts III
(First of all, it’s important for you all to know that I am currently listening to a playlist made up of only two songs: “Face My Fears - English Version” by Utada Hikaru and Skrillex, and “Don’t Think Twice” by Utada Hikaru. So, while writing this, my emotions are oscillating between wanting to rave with my friends and wanting to fucking cry.)
I guess I should start at the beginning. At the start of this year, Patrick had this idea: in preparation for Kingdom Hearts III, we should learn as much as we could about the extensive narrative of the Kingdom Hearts games, and try to repeat it into a microphone. Austin and I agreed to do the research, and Cado would serve as our resident fact-checker. Why? Well, for Lore Reasons.
I thought it would be a fun and mostly hilarious project. Nothing could have prepared me for how deeply I would grow to love Kingdom Hearts over the course of those few months. Then...I played Kingdom Hearts III. I ended up beating the game at work right before recording one of our Lore Reasons episodes. There I was, sitting at my desk in the VICE offices, just sobbing over this game.
It’s hard to explain why exactly Kingdom Hearts III means so much to me. A big part of it was doing Lore Reasons, every week I couldn’t wait to sit down with my favorite people to talk about Sora, Kairi, RIKU, Lea, Xion, Roxas, Naminé, Ventus, Terra, Aqua, and...Donald and Goofy.
But when it comes to what about Kingdom Hearts III itself earned its place as my favorite game of the year, it comes down to its unapologetic belief in yes, the power of friendship. Kingdom Hearts III is unabashedly optimistic in the face of absolute devastation. It relentlessly pursues happiness despite literally the end of the world. Which, in real life, could truly never be me. But while playing Kingdom Hearts III, it was—I believed in the goodness of my friends, I believed in what we could accomplish together, and perhaps more surprisingly, managed to believe in myself.
To love Kingdom Hearts is to embrace these pure beliefs, beliefs that are increasingly difficult to maintain as I get older and more jaded. But when I’m playing Kingdom Hearts, real life is suspended. I am free to play in this fantasy toy box, alongside people I love, against people whose hearts wish I could save. I am free to believe.
In this often dark world, I am grateful to have the light of Kingdom Hearts.