CR staff and contributors share their favorite games of 2015!
The Crunchyroll 2015 Favorites continue with our second installment, talking about CR staff and contributors' favorite VIDEO GAMES of 2015! In a year filled with fresh IPs, with games that made a splash whether they were huge tentpole AAA titles or indie underdogs, what games stood out the most to our panel of judges?
Life is Strange- Despite my absolute love of games that try to physically harm me (more on that in a minute), I'm starting to gravitate toward adventure games as the ones that try to emotionally harm me. A clever, heartfelt adventure that brings in time travel, alternate realities, and a terrifying apocalypse, Life is Strange reminds you just how meaningful it is to have a best friend, even if it isn't forever. Occasional hella clunky dialogue can't sink this ship--give it a shot.
Bloodborne- When you're done getting your heart proverbially ripped out by Life is Strange, you're more than welcome to have it physically torn out and devoured by Bloodborne, FROM's newest definitely-not-easy adventure. Changing the "play it safe" mindset of Dark Souls to a more "who dares, wins" mentality was an inspiring choice, and the unique transforming weapons helped add another layer to the game's rich combat. What a ride.
Splatoon- Nintendo jumped feet-first into the crowded multiplayer shooter genre with a fresh, fun team game that relies on quick thinking, quicker shooting, and a completely different mentality compared to anything else on the market. Constantly evolving, regularly updating, and eternally fun, Splatoon shows Nintendo as the pioneers we all celebrate them as.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain- It's no secret that Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is one of my favorite games in the series, and The Phantom Pain brought it all--base-building, mission-prepping, weapon-researching, kidnapping Fulton-recruiting and more to a much larger scale. An incomplete story can't mar the fact that I spent over a hundred hours playing this game, able to pull me away from everything else at the time.
Telltale’s Game of Thrones- Telltale had a pretty full plate this year between this, Tales of the Borderlands, and Minecraft: Story Mode, but nothing quite helps an obsession like being able to completely immerse yourself in a world. Dropping you right into the HBO adaptation of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, playing multiple roles requires you to keep a running tally of who you're playing, and who's playing you, with enough story variance that I'll have to revisit this one at least three or four times to get the full experience.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Yakuza 5, Xenoblade Chronicles X, Code Name S.T.E.A.M., Super Mario Maker, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Until Dawn- I figured I was in for something embarrassingly benign and rife with obnoxious teenage cliches with the PlayStation 4 release Until Dawn, in fact. Stupid-looking slasher mask? Check. Hayden Panettiere? Check. Needlessly sensual teaser trailer edited to create an entirely out-of-context peepshow? Check. On paper it looked like a complete dud, but my love for games like Beyond: Two Souls and Heavy Rain kept me hopeful. I took the plunge, purchased a copy, and hunkered down for a few days' worth of absolute gaming bliss.
It's difficult to discuss what makes this diamond in the rough such a compelling title without spoiling its excellently-written narrative that could rival any 2015 Hollywood flick. It's familiar, keeps you guessing, and continues to sprinkle in new plot elements even when you're not looking. It's not a bunch of vapid teenagers being chased by an axe man and it's not a flimsy excuse to watch Hayden Panettiere traipse around in a towel. It's a fantastic game, and one you should make some time for, even if adventure games aren't your ilk.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D- It feels like cheating to name Majora’s Mask my Game of the Year, since not only did I play very few new games in 2015, but it’s a rerelease of a game that I’ve already had 15 years to marinate on. All that aside, Majora’s Mask still holds up well in 2015, and replaying it as an adult has opened up a lot of new avenues of analysis that I never considered as a kid. It remains the darkest, most melancholy Zelda game, with an overarching sense of loss and despair that lends the game a distinctive atmosphere but never feels oppressive or melodramatic. Grezzo’s 3DS port makes the game feel new again, with higher-resolution models and textures that match the look and feel of the old game. The only element that feels dated is the game’s scope; at the time, Majora’s Mask had such a large, ambitious world that it required an extra “Expansion Pak” to play it on the Nintendo 64, but in an age of sprawling hundred-hour open-world 3-D RPGs, it all feels a bit quaint. Despite this, Majora’s Mask is still very much worth playing for the modern video game fan, as its understated synchronicity between mechanics and narrative themes has rarely been rivaled in the past 15 years.
Undertale- I hesitated to put Undertale on my list, since the game's frequent bursts of brilliance are countered with long stretches of frustration, but ultimately decided that it deserved a spot, moreso because of what it attempts than what it achieves. Toby Fox's Kickstarter-funded RPG is obviously inspired by the Mother/Earthbound games, and as such, what begins as an adventure into an underground world full of monsters quickly turns to questions of morality and responsibility, uncovering a world with all the whimsy of an Adventure Time episode and the pathos of a Walking Dead episode. Fighting monsters is an ever-present option, but you can also talk them out of combat, and the choice between this "pacifist" play style and a more combat-heavy one has big consequences. Behind this is Fox's pervasive attention to detail. The game records almost every action, from killing an enemy to equipping an item, and affects events as small as one-off dialogue lines and as large as the game's ending. Fox's writing is snappy and contemporary, full of lovingly idiotic characters, sly pop culture references, and clever reinforcement of narrative via combat and puzzle mechanics. Unfortunately Undertale isn't always well balanced as a game—puzzles are often needlessly obtuse and combat in the endgame is cruelly difficult and drawn-out—but its commentary on the assumptions and underlying power fantasies of video games, as well as its unspoken Tumblresque worldview (the main character is ungendered, for one) make it a fascinating artifact of 2015 video game design. Undertale may not be the best game of the year, but it is a harbinger of the delightful, introspective, experimental video games we can look forward to in years to come.
The Response to Satoru Iwata's Death- On July 11, 2015, we lost a video gaming legend. In the past decade we knew Satoru Iwata as the genial, fun-loving President of Nintendo, but when he passed away due to cancer at the age of 55, an outpouring of grief and remembrance online exposed me to some fascinating facts about Iwata’s storied career. Did you know Iwata took a 50% pay cut when Nintendo had a bad quarter in 2014? Or that he ported the entire Pokémon Red/Green combat system to Pokémon Stadium in a single week while he was the President of HAL Laboratory? Or that he helped get Super Smash Bros. Melee out on time by performing debugging and code reviews while working as General Manager of Corporate Planning for Nintendo? He’s even credited with rewriting and fixing huge portions of Earthbound’s code, saving the game from cancellation. All of these stories, and the many kind words fans and industry luminaries had to say about Mr. Iwata, reminded me of just how rare it is for a company president to inspire such love from people who only know him through press conferences and other public appearances. So thanks for everything, Mr. Iwata. You will be missed.
amiibo- It’s 5am on a Wednesday, and I’m shouting down the hallway to my roommates “Jigglypuff is on sale!” The amiibo craze turned grown men into monsters, and I loved every moment of it. Swapping horror stories of waiting in the bitter cold for hours before a store opens, or making back-alley deals with some weirdo on craigslist, all for figures of our favorite Nintendo characters. I don’t even own a Wii U and I had the fever! Thankfully it seems the shortage is being handled, but we’ll always have the memories.
Fallout 4- I got chills when I saw the announcement trailer for Fallout 4 this past E3, and good guy Bethesda didn’t leave me waiting for long. Fallout 4 was an exciting return to the wasteland that I had been secretly wanting for years. This installment delivered in almost all the right ways, and was a strong entry point for new players as well.
Undertale- I’ll admit, I was skeptical when this indie game started showing up in my news feed, but after spending a few hours with the game, I was convinced. The game is filled to the brim with fun and likeable characters, and offers the player an agency not found in the games that likely inspired it; depending on your choices, it’s a completely different game! It left me feeling that although I felt I had finished the game, there was still a world of mysteries to uncover.
Love Live: School Idol Festival– I really fell for Love Live: School Idol Festival (or LLSIF, as we addicts call it) hard in 2015, sacrificing everything but actual cash to make my dreams of capturing the elusive Maki or Honoka cards come true. And although I took an extended break from the game, here at the end of the year I find myself coming back to it more casually, enjoying the music and the nostalgia for a franchise that’s going through a major transition soon. I’m sure I’ll eventually clean this 1GB monster app off my phone, but not this year.
Splatoon– Like I said, I don’t own a Wii U. But I do have a computer and I have ears. I have eyes. Which means, even though I didn’t even inhabit the same room as copy of Splatoon (except when I bought my Wii from Gamestop lol), I still was able derive a phenomenal amount of entertainment from Splatoon’s stupidly catchy commercial hooks and the seemingly limitless potential of the game to generate memes. Even internet salt of Cloud Strife showing up in Super Smash Bros. or Undertale can’t compete with the vicarious joy Splatoon has granted me. You go, Nintendo.
HONORABLE MENTION: Harvest Moon: Tree of Tranquility– Right. This is a Wii (regular old Wii, not WiiU) game released all the way back in 2007. Well, that’s where I live in video game land, because I just bought a Wii a few months ago. And you know what? Having never played a Harvest Moon game before, I was surprised to find a totally relaxing, healing experience in this dinosaur game from 8 years ago. I guess it just goes to show that you don’t need 60fps graphics to have a good time playing video games. I’ll get a Wii U soon enough, don’t worry (like in 8 years).
The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt- The phrase “meaningful choices” gets thrown around a lot in gaming, typically with disappointing results, but The Witcher 3 absolutely nails it. Each decision you make has consequences spanning from personal to historic and the decisions typical consist of shades of gray, but even some obvious choices can take a turn for the worst or, more simply, require a great deal of personal suffering. Even romance is victim to this dynamic, with Geralt’s two love interests holding equal claim on his affections, making both choices feel like the wrong one. Placed on the backdrop of a beautifully developed, hard-bitten fantasy setting, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is easily my favorite open world game this year.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain- Much like the inevitability of Snake’s continued suffering as the martyr of international politics, so to is MGSV’s place in my list of favorite games this year. Kojima perfectly adapted the linear gameplay of the franchise's previous releases into a beautiful open world that allows for an infinite number of ways you can approach each mission. It’s a shame the game was mired in disputes between Konami and Kojima, which likely lead to the lost last chapter “Peace” and the bizarre not-quite ending. While not the swan song we might have hoped for to close the Metal Gear Solid series, The Phantom Pain can stand among giants even as an incomplete title.
Batman: Arkham Knight- I consider the Batman: Arkham series of video games to be DC’s greatest response to Marvel’s domination of other media. The player’s perspective of not-quite being Batman, allowing you to witness and participate in his strategy without spoiling payoff, is unbelievably satisfying. Arkham Knight provides the best gameplay yet, along with several excellent comic storylines tied into a plot that really does the Scarecrow justice as a member of Gotham’s rogues gallery. Much like MGSV, Arkham Knight is also an almost-perfect title marred by bizarre flaws, the compulsive shoehorning of the batmobile into every moment of the game is a worse crime than any of Gotham’s rogues gallery could commit. Despite this disastrous flaw, Arkham Knight really stands out among this year's releases.
Bloodborne- The Victorian Gothic take on the typically dystopic fantasy of Dark Souls at first seemed like a simple change of scenery for FROM’s famously deadly franchise, but Bloodborne is anything but a reskin. It turns the Souls system of conservative combat on its head by rewarding constant aggression and lightning-fast reactions. Yharnam has all the discrete narrative depth of Lordran with an arguably more impressive aesthetic, combining classical and chthonic visuals into some uniquely terrifying creatures. Bloodborne lives up to the difficulty of its heritage and, even if you aren’t the masochistic type, the setting alone is worth the pain of exploration.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number- I don’t think any other indie game has hooked me like Hotline Miami has. Its sense of style hits you like an eighteen-wheeler, combining creative storytelling with surprising visceral pixelated imagery all delivered to the tune of a soundtrack I can only describe as “perfect”. The gameplay is addictive, a rollercoaster of violence delivered in bursts of danger broken by lows of tension as you plan your next move. Accompanied by an enigmatic story best described as "The Manchurian Candidate as written by Hunter S. Thompson," Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is the complete package, possessing a level of polish that belies its bare-bones design.
Bloodborne- I’m not sure if Bloodborne has the same long-term grip on me as a proper Souls game, but man did it completely crush the early part of my year. FROM Software outdid themselves in both the action and atmosphere departments, creating some of the most tense and thrilling moments along with a combat system that serves up a hell of a counterpoint to Souls.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain- MGSV, despite all its woes behind the scenes that are impossible to separate from the finished product, is an incredible work. Whereas I can enjoy something like the aforementioned Bloodborne just by thinking about it, it isn’t until I actually touch down for a mission in MGSV that it all clicks. Kojima and his team outdid themselves in designing this world, which is one of the most fluid and enjoyable I’ve had the pleasure of exploring, sneaking around in, and blowing up.
Rocket League- This surprise was simply the best pick-up-and-play multiplayer in recent memory. In a time in which I don’t even really like competitive multiplayer at all, it’s one of the few multiplayer games that I don’t insist on playing exclusively with friends. Just fire it up and knock out a couple—or a couple dozen—quick matches.
Downwell- Mobile games haven’t been doing it for me lately. I only have one game on my phone at the moment, and it’s Downwell. That’s really all I need. Downwell is impressive in its stripped-down design, both visually and mechanically, and is one of this year’s finest samples of elegantly crafted replayability.
In case you missed it, check out yesterday's installment, featuring CR staff and contributors' favorite ANIME AND MANGA! And if you're still in the mood for our favorites, check out last year's lists:
Be sure to tune in tomorrow for our THIRD AND FINAL INSTALLMENT of Crunchyroll 2015 Favorites, featuring EVERYTHING ELSE we loved in the year: movies, books, music, sports, food, and more! What about you? What are YOUR favorite games of 2015? Remember--FAVORITES, not BEST OF, so there are no wrong answers--sound off in the comments and let us know!