It is time again to go through my favorite games of the year. I promise they’re not all JRPGs.
2015 was a great year for video games by all accounts, but for some reason it was pretty easy to put together a list of the ten best. Maybe it’s because I haven’t yet played some games I know I’ll dig—sorry, Until Dawn!—or maybe it’s because these ten games just stood out from the rest. Either way, these entries are all superb.
On with the list, starting with a game I’d waited four years to play...
Trails in the Sky SC (PC, PSP/Vita)
Four and a half years ago, I finished the first chapter of Trails in the Sky. As you may have heard, it ends on a hell of a cliffhanger, which was fine in 2011 because we knew that publisher XSEED planned to bring over the second game soon afterwards. Then came 2012. And 2013. And 2014. By 2015 it was very clear that they’d gone through hell to get this game here.
It was worth the wait. Trails SC is superior to its predecessor in almost every way, and it resonated with me like no other game this year. The backtracking can get a little annoying, but the emotional payoff is oh-so-great.
Box Boy (3DS)
I love Box Boy because it’s the polar opposite of most games from big companies. Instead of trying to do a ton of things because marketing’s focus tests insist that every video game needs “RPG elements” and “choices,” Box Boy does one thing and does it perfectly. Like Portal before it, this is a puzzle game that starts off quietly and crescendos as you play, culminating in the perfect sound. It’ll make you feel smarter, too.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (PC, PS3, PS4, XB1, 360)
Yes, the story is disappointing and unfinished. Yes, the microtransactions are garbage. Yes, the company behind this game appears to be a draconian hellscape where dreams are crushed into grey goo and used to power up the pachinko machines.
But still. Metal Gear Solid V is the best stealth game ever made, a blend of reconnaissance, action, and meticulous design that serves as a fitting last hurrah for Hideo Kojima’s iconic series. How could I not love a game that let me do this?
Super Mario Maker (Wii U)
When Nintendo finally released a Mario level editor, it felt like the death of 2D Mario. How could one company ever compete with the thousands upon thousands of players who have now crafted everything from automated rollercoasters to goddamn JRPGs? Then again: why would they want to? Super Mario Maker is an incredible tool, both for unadulterated creativity and for driving Patrick Klepek insane.
Pillars of Eternity (PC)
I love-love-love Baldur’s Gate II—it’s one of my favorite video games of all time. I don’t think Pillars of Eternity quite lives up to those standards—it’s closer to BG1 in how it establishes foundations that will inevitably be improved with expansions and sequels—but it’s the best attempt I’ve seen to date, thanks to stellar writing, clever story-telling tricks, and some wonderful characters who just want to set everything on fire.
The Witcher 3 (PC, XB1, PS4)
What can I say? I’m a sucker for big RPGs with smart writing, unprecedented scale, and heroes with genuine flaws. I haven’t finished The Witcher 3 yet, but the kazillion hours I’ve spent with CD Projekt Red’s masterpiece have convinced me that yes, it is indeed a masterpiece, even if I still get hit by sidequest paralysis every once in a while.
Destiny: The Taken King (PS3, PS4, XB1, 360)
What naysayers don’t understand about Destiny is that those of us who play it obsessively don’t just do it for the loot. We don’t just play for the competition, or the raids, or the thrill of popping Cabal heads like bubble wrap. We don’t just play so we can whine about everything Destiny does wrong—and yes, even after all the improvements brought by The Taken King, Destiny still does a lot wrong.
We play Destiny for the community. We use this game as an excuse to shoot the shit with friends, to laugh at in-jokes on the excellent Destiny subreddit and feel like we’re participating in something bigger than ourselves, something that will continue to ebb and flow for years and years in a way that few other games ever will. Going through Destiny’s many ups and downs along with friends, colleagues, and random players across the internet in 2015 has been really, really special. As frustrating as Bungie can be sometimes, they’ve created a game that has transcended consoles and become something far bigger, something truly iconic.
Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward (PC, PS4, PS3)
Well, OK, technically I haven’t even gotten up to the new stuff in Heavensward—I’m only level 30!—but this year I started playing FFXIV and I love it to death. Fahey tells me the Heavensward content is stellar, so I’m stoked to keep playing. Bummer about the whole monthly subscription thing.
Earlier this year, I played an hour or two of Undertale and figured I’d seen everything I needed to see. “OK,” I thought, “Another Earthbound clone with clever writing and charm. Whatever.”
I was wrong. Way wrong. Undertale is a good game elevated to great by the “true” ending—the one where you don’t kill anyone—and a soundtrack that’s just too good to be real. I can’t stop thinking about it.
Steins;Gate (PC, PS3, Vita)
I’m so, so glad I didn’t give up on this one. I almost did. Around chapter two or three, lying in bed and playing Steins;Gate on my Vita, I was so sick of the sluggishness—and lack of conflict—that I considered just turning it off and playing something else. But when everything finally paid off, it was oh so worth it. An incredible story all around.
GAMES FROM 2014 I STARTED PLAYING IN 2015 AND RECOMMEND TO ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE: 80 Days
GAMES I APPRECIATED AS MASTERFUL WORKS EVEN THOUGH THEY AREN’T QUITE FOR ME: Bloodborne
GAMES I NEED TO PLAY MORE: Trails of Cold Steel, Until Dawn, Life is Strange, Tales From The Borderlands, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, Ori and the Blind Forest