3. Final Fantasy XV
Oh, Final Fantasy XV, what a weird, wonderful train wreck you are.
As I said in my review just a few days ago, Final Fantasy XV has so many glaring issues and so many less-than-stellar pieces that somehow come together to form a really great game. Despite the dumpster fire of a plot, the uninspired side quests, and the obvious missing pieces left over from ten years in development hell, the journey of Noctis and his bros gave me some of my best memories of 2016.
It’s not the flashy and fulfilling combat, the character progression system, the fantastic world design, or the huge laundry list of things to do that make FFXV spectacular. It’s the relationship between Noctis, Ignis, Gladio, and Prompto that truly make the game special. By all rights, they’re just four ordinary guys on a road trip, and the little moments they share along the way help to establish that they’re more than just best friends: they’re brothers, inseparable even through the toughest trials.
It’s easy to spend so many hours just wandering the world of Eos, doing hunts, collecting everything from gemstones to dog tags to frogs, taking photos, battling all manner of beasts, somehow inadvertently participating in a Cup Noodle advertisement…that’s another story entirely. Final Fantasy XV is an absolutely massive game, but at its heart it’s the exact opposite – a personal tale of the bond between four best friends on a road trip. It’s a simple premise, but so very effective.
I spent nearly the entire month of December on that road trip with Noctis and crew, making memories that I’ll carry with me into the new year and beyond. And by the time it reached its beautiful, emotional conclusion, I was sad to see it end.
That is…until the DLC comes out, which I’m sure I’ll wind up buying just to spend more time with my bros.
2. Pokémon Sun & Moon
Damn it, Game Freak.
The Pokémon series was basically the series that started it all for me. I’ve played through every game in the series countless times over the last 20 years of my life. It will always hold a special place in my heart, and I’ll never tire of revisiting the games with different teams and experiences.
But I thought that after the disappointment that was Gen 6, I would finally break free of my Pokémon fever. I’ve been convinced the series was on a downward trajectory and it might be time to move on. Sure, I’d play the games, but the days of buying both games and playing them over…and over…and over…were behind me.
Then you came back with the best Pokémon games in years, if not ever.
The tropical world of Alola is so vibrant and full of life. For the first time, I really felt like Pokémon were integral parts of everyday life beyond just battling and pets. Grimer and Muk work tirelessly to help clean up trash. Delibird help harvest and deliver berries. Machamp give people rides and help them move heavy boulders. Lapras help ferry people across water. The entire population of Alola has developed a near-symbiotic relationship with Pokémon, and it’s a theme that runs throughout the entire game. You too get to call on those helper Pokémon to help you with your journey – no more HMs!
Not only that, but the customs of the island permeate the entire journey. Gone are the days of battling gyms and collecting badges. In their place is the island challenge, which sees you completing a series of seven trials. Each of these trials involves various puzzles and minigames leading up to a battle with a Totem Pokémon. These powered-up Pokémon are truly formidable and provide a worthy challenge during your island journey – and make no mistake, Sun and Moon are some of the more challenging entries in the series despite their lack of traditional gyms.
The new Pokémon include some truly fantastic designs (even if they’re overall a bit slow) and the introduction of Alolan forms of older Pokémon is a really neat twist to some familiar faces. The traditional Pokémon plot gets a revamp as well, with a fleshed-out story full of expository cutscenes and character development – and it goes places I never expected the series to go.
Sun and Moon breathe fresh air into a series that desperately needed it, and I enjoyed my time with Sun more than I have any Pokémon game since Gen 4…so much so that I’m already almost done with a playthrough of Moon.
Some things never change.
I don’t even know what to say about Overwatch.
No other 2016 game has given me so many hours of outright joy. No other 2016 game has also made me so frustrated I wanted to smash my computer monitor.
But Overwatch has its hooks in me and doesn’t seem to want to let go. I still play it almost every single night – sometimes for just a quick match or two, sometimes for hours. It has that addictive “just one more match” quality, where you’ll sit down for “just one or two rounds” and all of a sudden three hours has passed. Sometimes you have a great team and have such intense matches that you want to keep going again and again, and other times you get players on your team that don’t know a Genji from a Bastion and come up with the most horrible team compositions imaginable – and you get steamrolled. Repeatedly. And quite painfully.
Sure, it’s a multiplayer-only, class-based shooter at its most base level. But it’s the game’s robust cast of characters that makes it truly stand out in a sea of other multiplayer shooters. Every character has their own unique play style – so much so that many of them feel like different games in themselves.
Yes, you have staples like the generic assault hero Soldier 76 or the sniper Widowmaker, but then there’s Zenyatta, who uses orbs of harmony and discord to heal his teammates or weaken his opponents (and he can also function as a sort of sniper). Or maybe you can try Zarya, who uses beam energy to damage her opponents or shield herself and her teammates, or create an anti-gravity field to pull opponents in like a tractor beam – and she also can launch grenades. There are plenty of characters that anyone can pick up and play, but an even greater number that require hours and hours of playtime to become proficient.
Not only are they all different gameplay-wise, but Overwatch‘s heroes are a colorful bunch of characters as well. Each represents a specific part of the world and comes with their own backstory, and they’re full of personality to boot. The banter that goes on both before and during matches is charming and helps establish the characters and their relationship with each other, and there is plenty of supplemental material through comics and the like if you want to expand your experience past the game itself.
Everything in Overwatch has been put together with such detail and such care that, despite incorporating so many different play styles, everything comes together into a fantastic whole. It’s an accessible game that anyone can pick up and play and have just as much fun (and frustration) as someone who’s poured hundreds of hours into the game and knows the ins and outs of every character.
Add in a bunch of well-designed maps and modes (except CTF, screw that) and remarkable developer support through a steady stream of new free content, constant balance tweaks, and seasonal events, and Overwatch is a game I’ll be playing for months, if not years, to come.
And that’s 2016. While I’m not sad to see the year over, I’m definitely glad that I made so many memories through my gaming travels this past year. Not only that, but I have plenty of games that I’ll continue playing into 2017 and beyond.
And who knows? Maybe I’ll get around to playing more Civ 6 or Stardew Valley, or the day will come when I inevitably sell my soul to Planet Coaster.
But until then, here’s to a great last year in gaming, and the best of hopes for 2017!