Author’s Note: This was sitting years in my drafts. I thought I might as well publish it.

Well this post is quite late, but I couldn’t let this tradition die out just yet, so here it is, my reflections on games I finished in 2015. It was quite a fun year for me, even if I didn’t finish all that much. I just finished 16 games and completed 3 last year, which is a drop over the previous two years where I had managed over 20 beaten games in each of those years. Oh well at least 2016 is looking better already! But regardless, even though I only finished a handful, I did have a lot of fun with them:

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The Best Gaming Discovery of 2015
Splatoon (Wii U)

Splatoon isn’t really an under the radar sort of game, so you may be wondering why I consider it my best discovery. Well truth be told, I knew about Splatoon but I wasn’t even going to be getting it and least of all playing it. Shooters were never my cup of tea. But then so many of my backloggery friends started playing it that I got quite tempted and bought it. Took me until August to actually play it though! I mainly did not believe the game would be as much fun as it turned out to be, and that is why it’s my best gaming discovery of 2015. I discovered I can enjoy shooters too~ The single player, while more like a tutorial into the game, had quite a memorable final boss, and on top of that the game has so much charm and heart. Callie and Marie’s banter is adorable~ Those two really do give the game so much personality. Although the hip and happening gear, or in the game’s terms, the fresh gear, also add a lot of cute charm to such a charming game. I’m really glad I gave this game a chance, it did not disappoint. Even better is our weekly Splatoon nights keep me and my friends playing continuously~ Plus the Splatfests hosted by Nintendo every 3 weeks also add a much needed change of pace to online interactions. It has been a ton of great fun in 2015 and now 2016 as well~ I’m so glad I took the chance on it!

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The Remake that is Better than the Original
Pokemon Alpha Sapphire (3DS)

I think anyone who has ever talked to me about Pokemon knows Gen 3 had always been my least favourite generation. It wasn’t anything that generation did, but more that I had formed certain expectations after Silver and Crystal, and Sapphire just could not meet them. Alpha Sapphire polished up this generation quite a bit and gave me a chance to give it a second chance. Boy did this second chance proved to outshine my original impressions of Sapphire. The 3D visuals made the locals much more vibrant and the expanded story and heavy shipping implications between May and Brendan made this a Pokemon game I will not forget. The additional post-game “episode” was also interesting and fleshed out Mega Evolution and more of the lore in the third generation. Plus all the fine tuning of the helpful Poke-Nav type menu (I love the route app. that tells you when you’ve caught every mon on that particular route) and the much sought return of secret bases, really made this entry quite a treat for me, well above and beyond the original. All in all you can say I’m a fan of the third generation now~

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The Game which Benefited the most from a Retranslation
Higurashi When They Cry Hou: Chapter 1: Onikakushi (steam)

I had originally played the first chapter, Onikakushi, via the re-release of Manga Gamer’s version on the Apple store. The translation left a lot to be desired and for a visual novel, translation and localization is key. Fortunately, Manga Gamer rose to the occasion to retranslate the steam version of their game and I was willing to give them another chance. It was worth it. The new translation doesn’t have any of the awkwardness and nonsensical sentences of the original. It flows well and I understood everything. In fact, I finally realized what was going on in a few different places where the first translation left me confused. Just goes to show it’s never a bad idea to right a wrong. Fans do appreciate it. Can’t wait to read chapter two this year since it’s finally out. :D

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The Game with a Better Normal/Bad End than the True End
Date Warp (steam)

Usually the true ends are the best and most satisfying ends in a visual novel with multiple branches and endings. Often times the other ends act as almost encouragement for the player to try and get that best end. Yet with Date Warp, although the true end ties everything up nicely and you earn the Happily Ever After, I ended up enjoying the Normal and Bad ends so much more. Perhaps it’s personal preference again, but I felt like the True End was a bit too perfect. I enjoyed the more bitter Bad End of Bradley’s route, where Janet had to come to terms with her loss. And the normal end, although much happier, still didn’t give you a completely happy end. And you know what? I liked that about both endings. I liked that Janet and Bradley tried desperately to save each other and were willing to risk it all and fail. The other ends of the other routes have almost an equal amount of both happiness and loss as well, with none of them being the quintessential perfect happy end. And that resonated more with me and I ended up being disappointed with the True End! That said, the game is still really well done. A good mystery, sci-fi, and  romance blend and I liked that Janet was openly and visibly a person of color. She references her background a few times in game to inform the player a bit more about her! Thank you Hanako Games. This sort of thing is why I don’t snuff at English language otoge like others. The writing is good and coming from a different culture than Japanese developers allows developers from English speaking countries to do things you wouldn’t see from a Japanese developer and that’s awesome. Not to say that Japanese developers are worse or vice versa, I mean more that each development team adds something unique and I like English language otoge for what they are~

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The Most Enjoyable Multiplayer Game
The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes (3DS)

Truthfully, Splatoon should have this honor, but I gave it to another title. I did have an exceptionally fun time with Tri Force Heroes too. In fact, the game is made with multiplayer in mind exclusively! Sure you can tackle the challenges in single player too, but it’s tedious at best. The challenges were made with the idea that three people would be playing rather than a single person switching between three different Links. I tried playing it in single player and it just wasn’t all that fun for me. Now as a multiplayer game? It’s quite a lot of fun. Figuring out the puzzles and cooperating together to take the bosses down was very satisfying. Some of those extra challenges are quite brutal though! I’m mainly speaking of the timed challenges and the last part of Den of Trials Dungeon. Ah, but friendships grow stronger when forged in the fires of pain and suffering, I think~ ;) Plus trying to get all the loot for the costumes so you can dress up however you like (or just make some of those challenges easier) was also something I enjoyed. Might be that collector mentality in me! Still playing this one on and off in 2016 as well. I really do want to complete all the costumes and finish up all the challenges, even those that seem downright impossible. (I’m looking at you “transport the orb quickly”).

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Wickedest New Gaming Series I’m Glad I Tried
Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin (NDS)

So I had made a promise and effort in the last few years to actually try more types of games. I had been almost an exclusively playing RPGs since I got back to gaming with Pokemon Blue. My first attempts were to play more platformers and actually finish off the games that gave me so much trouble in my childhood like Sonic 2, Super Mario Bros. 3, and Wario Land III. However I think 2015 marks a more drastic change with me giving quite a few different games a chance that I would have normally passed by like Splatoon; as well as having much more variety in terms of games I did end up playing and finishing. Castlevania was, in  particular, a conscious attempt on my end to try something entirely new. I had asked around and the general consensus seemed to be that Portrait of Ruin was the perfect starting point. I’m glad I had decided to try the series and began with Portrait of Ruin. The game was a lot of fun and not particularly punishing (although not easy either). I liked the dual system between Jonathan and Charlotte. Not to mention their relationship was cute and amusing. A shame we didn’t see more banter between them. But Castlevania is without a doubt a game about exploration and action and it definitely excelled in that. I loved trying to look through every nook and cranny. The fact that the game looked good and the music was equally gorgeous helped matters too. I ended up having so much fun that I went out of my way and bought Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow and I certainly do have my eyes open for more games in the series now.

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The Game that Surprised Me the Most
Hyrule Warriors (Wii U)

I had watched gameplay footage of Musou/Dynasty Warriors type games before. Even watching footage of Hyrule Warriors, I was a bit skeptical if I could enjoy the gameplay. Repetition isn’t really my cup of tea. I got bored of Odin Sphere because the action gameplay felt too monotonous. But alas, the lure of being able to play as Zelda, Impa, and Shiek was far too much to pass up, so I picked the game up. It definitely surprised me since I was not expecting to have as much fun as I did with it. The constant changing mission objectives helped keep the flow of the game from feeling too stale. And the Adventure Map throws quite a lot of really tough objectives your way, which again works to prevent the game from feeling too same-y. And the developers really did go out of their way to make this spin-off feel like  proper homage, from the collectible Golden Skulltullas to the puzzle like approach for boss enemies. Oh and I definitely enjoyed playing as some of the more prominent ladies in the series. In fact, I was surprised how vastly different each character played. I had some trouble, for example, getting the hang of Ruto. And I ended up gravitating toward the speedy Shiek, even though I really appreciated how heavy Impa played and that massive sword they gave her. I definitely won’t be snubbing any more Musou games, that’s for sure!

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The Game I have the Most Mixed Feelings About
Amnesia: Memories (Vita)

Boy oh boy, I really wanted to love Amnesia as much as I did Hakuoki, but well, it just didn’t impress me all that much. It’s not a bad game, just not one that’s very memorable and that’s why I’m so mixed about it. I’ve only finished Shin’s route, so who knows, my impressions may improve, but the general idea for the game, well, because it’s such a simple “murder mystery” type set-up, a lot of the appeal relies on the actual relationship between the Heroine and the guy, in my case that was Shin. I mean, Orion’s existence suggests there is something more at work, but certainly nothing supernatural came to pass in Shin’s route. And in fact, Shin wasn’t really my cup of tea. Moody tsundere? Ehhhhh, I don’t get the appeal, sorry! Which left me so mixed about this game. It wasn’t a bad game. The writing was wasn’t bad, the art is gorgeous and the music is quite nice. But well, Shin didn’t impress me at all. His meanness to the heroine, who was so passive, just made me wish I could say something back to the jerk. It didn’t help that I think the more submissive/passive choices were the ones you had to do to get the Best End. I only got the normal end. I also didn’t liked that the game basically locks you into a route at the very beginning when you have absolutely no idea which character you will want to go after yet! I still want to sample the other routes, but I was expecting so much more from it and it just didn’t deliver. I hope the other routes can change my mind!

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The Game with the Most Unique Story-Telling Approach
A Bird Story (steam)

A Bird Story reminded me strongly of silent movies. I don’t believe many games have undertaken a complete attempt at non-verbal and non-written communication with the player. Usually there is either a little bit of dialogue or words employed to convey even the most minimal of stories. And while I do realize there are already a good many indie games that utilize non-verbal methods of story-telling, I feel there are not that many as ambitious as A Bird Story. Usually it’s a general feeling that is being conveyed, but here there is an actual concrete story with a beginning and an end, with an array of emotions, and it’s all told via these little pixels on the screen. Heck, silent movies have it easier because they can express a character’s emotion via their facial expressions. The developer here had to be a little more creative because the pixels used in the character model lacked extensive enough detail to express facial features. Instead they relied heavily on a dream-like atmosphere and music to inform the player what exactly the boy was feeling or even thinking as the game progressed. I was impressed with how much this game was able to invoke such an array of emotions in me without once relying on words. Although I admit as someone who owns a pet, a lot of the experiences spoke out to me so strongly precisely because I’ve experienced similar things. There really was no need for words. They would have just cheapened the tender sweet bond expressed in this story. And the fact that the developer knew that and made the choice to cut all verbal forms of communication is what amazed and intrigued me the most. Truly two big thumbs up for Freebird Games, they deserve it!

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The Game that was Just as Good as I Remembered it
Pokemon Snap (N64)

So I never did have an N64 growing up, but my cousins did and there was one particular game I would constantly play whenever I went over to their house. Heck, they even lent me their N64 for March Break and I played Pokemon Snap addictively, from start to finish. I absolutely adored this game as a young girl. So when I finally picked up an N64, this was the first game I grabbed with it and I thoroughly enjoyed it as much as I did all those years ago! There is something absolutely fun about trying to snap pictures of as many pokemon as you can. And to this day, I am still scratching my head why Nintendo has never made a Snap 2. Heck the Wii U seems perfect for a new game with the gamepad acting as an actual camera! Come on Nintendo, let’s make dreams come true! > w < Regardless, I now have an actual physical copy of the game, so even if we never do get a Snap 2, at least I can enjoy the original whenever I want from now on~ I’m still missing a few Pokemon pictures, even if I’ve unlocked all the stages and snagged Mew’s picture already. So you can bet I’ll be heading back to the game sometime. Heck, I’ll even try to take some more unique and interesting pictures regardless! Such a fun game! Seriously! I love it to bits~

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The Cutest and Most Charming Game
The Legendary Starfy (NDS)

Starfy reminds me of Kirby a lot. It’s probably the absolute cuteness and charm both games just ooze. The stages are whimsical and may appear pretty simple, but there is an exceptional level of detail added. For example, if you destroy the penguin snowmen, little penguins will show up and make more. But it’s not just the cute aesthetic that makes the game so charming. The dialogue and banter between the characters is simply adorable and a treat to read! The game knows it’s a light-hearted trek and it willingly embraces that giving us some of the cheesiest and silliest lines and puns. I personally thought that added so much heart to the game. I kept checking back at Moe’s Show, for example, just to see more silly banter from the characters. Given how cute the game is, you’ll be surprised to learn the secret stage 10 you unlock after finishing the other 9 and completing the boss rush in under 10 minutes, is pretty difficult! Heck, I haven’t finished it yet. Sometimes appearances can be deceiving as they say~

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The Most Challenging Game
Advance Wars (GBA)

While Advance Wars wasn’t unfair or frustrating, it was definitely the game that kept me most on my toes in 2015. That last battle definitely tested my skills and my overall rank wasn’t too high, just a B, so I definitely want to retackle the game and get better rankings. I think that will be the real challenge from here on out~ Because the game isn’t particularly hard, you just have to be smart. Getting S ranked though? That will definitely take much more forethought! But hey, I’m always up for challenges~ That’s why I don’t consider this title a negative one, but a positive one. Bring the challenge~ I welcome it (as many friends on twitter discovered when I refused to back out of Hard/Classic on Nohr path’s chapter 10). Speaking of which, Intelligent Systems really knows how to create a challenging but fair strategy game. I’m very much thankful for all the new entries into Fire Emblem, since that is actually my favourite series from them, but Advance Wars is also a really good series and I am so sad we haven’t gotten another entry since Days of Ruin back on the Nintendo DS. Especially since Advance Wars is different enough from Fire Emblem that I think the two series can co-exist. Advance Wars is far more a traditional turn-based strategy game, while Fire Emblem is the hybrid SRPG. They have similarities, but having played both, I do hold both are distinct experiences. Challenging but distinct.

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The Game that Aged Surprisingly Well
Balloon Fight (VCH)

So I had gotten a copy of Balloon Fight via the Ambassador Program, but well, my backlog is terrible, so it basically just sat there in its digital folder unplayed (and even more unfortunate, it is not alone, I still have a good portion of the ambassador games to play). It is extremely unfortunate that it took the passing of Mr. Iwata to actually get me to play the game. I really respected Mr. Iwata, so I wanted to play something as a tribute to him. Earthbound was far too long to do it quick enough for a complementary blog post, and I really wanted to play something he personally worked hands on, and thus Balloon Fight fit the bill so very well. As I wrote in my tribute piece, the game was programmed remarkably well because it still holds up today!  It has this strangely float-y physics but it works so well for what it is, and I ended up having a  lot of fun with it. Heck I even grabbed the Balloon Fight 3DS theme because I had such a good time with it. And as I wrote in that piece, I am still serious about grabbing an actual physical copy of the game if I ever see it because the game is worth owning even now. If nothing else, Balloon Fight only strengthened my sad realization that we really did lose quite an exceptional man in 2015. Rest in peace, Mr. Iwata. You are still missed.

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The Game which I Thought I’d Never be Playing in English
Tales of Hearts R (Vita)

So you may be wondering why I’m shocked we got this game in English. Well for a couple of reasons. While in general Namco Bandai has been pretty good about bringing over Tales of games, there has always been one exception to that rule: handheld Tales of games. We did get Tales of Phantasia (GBA) and Tales of the World: Radiant Mythology (PSP), but we never did get any of the three Nintendo DS Tales of games, nor the PSP port of Eternia (which Europe got), nor the second or third installments of Tales of the World. Hearts R is a remake of Tales of Hearts, which was originally a Nintendo DS game, a game we never got. But it’s more than just that. The Vita hasn’t been doing so great in the west and a lot of the bigger publishers, like Namco Bandai, haven’t really been releasing much on it. So due to all these factors, I didn’t think we’d get Tales of Hearts R. I’m so glad Namco Bandai decided to bring the game over. It may not be the most interesting Tales of game, but I still personally enjoyed it. I thought the dungeons were interesting and as per usual, the pacing was good. The characters may be a tad, well, stereotypical, but I still liked them and had a fun run through the game with them. I’m so glad that Namco Bandai bucked their trend and gave us this one~ :3

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The Game that Lived up to its Reputation
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers (3DS)

Soul Hackers was one of those games we never got originally and it had quite a reputation among SMT fans as a really good game. Thankfully Atlus brought over the 3DS port of the originally Sega Saturn game, and those of us unfortunate enough not to understand Japanese were finally able to see for ourselves if the game was just as good as the internet had told us it was. Spoiler: It is! It is also so unabashedly 90s cyber punk and everything from the music to the character designs to the story lends itself to the general aesthetic, making the game quite an experience! But even if 90s cyber punk isn’t your thing, the game is so well crafted that it’s still worth playing. The demon negotiations are quite varied and fun, the characters have more depth to them than you first think, the dungeons are quite interesting, and the pacing and story are a treat to experience. I can only imagine perhaps the first person design of the dungeon crawling and battles might not be everyone’s cup of tea and that’s okay~ I personally felt it lent itself so well to the feel of 90s cyber punk and I quite like first person dungeon crawlers myself. Plus, it’s actually  quite a fair game by SMT standards and a good entry game. All in all definitely one of my favourite games now and I hope to revisit it down the line to get that alternate ending on New Game+

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The Game that wasn’t Sure What it Wanted to Be
Hate Plus (steam)

Hate Plus definitely delivered on what it was suppose to accomplish; giving us a recreation of how a society can degrade to the point like the one in Mugunghwa had done so. But while it did deliver on that front, the game also had a lot of Love’s own quirks added in. Following her on twitter, you can tell Love is quite into geek culture and it shows in Hate Plus. She makes references to quite a few games and we even have an deconstruction of otaku culture which I wrote about earlier happen on Hyun-ae’s route. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, although I did feel her deconstruction kind of fell apart personally. I did, however, feel that shifting the attention so acutely onto otaku culture and then back to how totalitarian governments are created, gave the game a weird mood whiplash. Almost as if the game momentarily wasn’t sure if it was a fictional reconstruction of the raise of a totalitarian regime or if it was a thought experiment about attachment to fictional characters seen in otaku culture. Did it ruin the game? Oh no. I still think Hate Plus is an interesting game and Love has some rather interesting ideas about totalitarianism, which I think aren’t far off from how it would go down in reality. Simply the otaku deconstruction came out of nowhere and made the game feel like it momentarily lost focus. Perhaps it would not have been so out of place if Love had made a game focusing more on geek culture and deconstructing it. Certainly, I do think her experiment was interesting if flawed, but just a tad out of place in this particular game.

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The Roughest Game of 2015
Journal (steam)

I bought Journal on sale because I noticed some friends had played it and the description sounded interesting. While I enjoyed the personal narrative in the game, in terms of design, this was most definitely the roughest game I played in 2015. The game gives you quite a few choices throughout the narrative, but often those choices don’t really matter because the game is trying to tell a very personal and specific story. I ended up feeling really perplexed why the creator put in the choices. I assume it’s because of the silly mentality that “it’s not a game if you can’t interact with it” and even if that were the case, I think opening itself to such criticism that it’s not a real game would have been worthwhile because ultimately the creator is trying to tell their story here. There is no need for anyone’s input. A Bird Story had no input and it was a much stronger game for it. I feel that Journal would have been the same if the choices were cut, but alas, sometimes we learn what works and doesn’t by mistakes more so than getting it right the first time. Still an interesting if flawed game regardless~

And that’s it~ That’s all the games I managed to play in 2015. Anyone play any of these~? What did you think?

–SW