A Year in Reflection (GOTY 2016)

It’s that time of the year again, the season of exchanging presents and spending time with family. With school out, it’s a wonderful time to catch up on some of the best games of the year. You might notice that I haven’t really been keeping up with updating the site in recent months. I’ve been pretty busy with training (I’m still serving in the Singapore Armed Forces) so I haven’t gotten much time to play. In 2015 I beat a whopping 34 games whereas in 2016 I only beat six: Three Fourths Home, Her Story, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D, Valkyria Chronicles Remastered, Dark Souls III, and Life Is Strange. Before I talk about Kantaloupe’s Game of the Year 2016, I want to give a couple honourable mentions.

Dark Souls III
Developer: From Software | 12.4.2016 | List Price: $42.99 | Buy from Amazon
I want to put this out there: For the majority of 2016, I was absolutely certain that this was my Game of the Year. Dark Souls was one of the most expertly-designed contemporary action RPGs but it never really got the follow-up it deserved. Dark Souls II was handled by a different team and showed disappointing lack of variety in environments and bosses. Bloodborne was excellent, but also faster-paced and, being a spin-off, didn’t have the same setting or lore as Dark Souls.

But Dark Souls III fixed all that. With its thoughtful level-design, satisfying boss fights, and crushing difficulty, it really does feel like a worthy sequel to Dark Souls. The popularity of a more agile player character à la Bloodborne was taken into account and Dark Souls III’s character feels like a healthy compromise between the two franchises. One of the major complaints about Bloodborne was the lack of weapon choices. I’m glad to say that that is no longer an issue in Dark Souls III as there are dozens upon dozens of weapons to experiment with. The Souls franchise has always been a love-or-hate kind of thing, but if you’ve been on the fence about trying a Souls game, give Dark Souls III a try. In my estimation, it’s not as difficult as the first game, while doing well to introduce the player to the core mechanics of the franchise, the most prominent of which is utter disappointment!

Valkyria Chronicles Remastered
Developer: Sega | 17.5.2016 | List Price: $29.99 | Buy from Amazon
I know this is technically a game from 2008, but the remaster hit PS4 this year and I binged it over two weekends in September. Boy, did I enjoy it! With its beautiful art and music, charming characters, and unique blend of SRPG and third-person shooter mechanics, Valkyria Chronicles really is one of the most memorable RPGs I’ve played. I really like how the World War II-inspired story and design aren’t just for show; Valkyria Chronicles tackles the horrors of war and genocide when it could have simply glossed over this facet of the time period.

Inside
Developer: Playdead | 29.6.2016 | List Price: $19.99 | Buy from PlayStation Store
Having just bought it during the Holiday Sale, I actually only started playing this game yesterday (January 1, 2017) but it’s a really atmospheric 2D puzzle platformer. I’m only halfway through the roughly three-hour game so I don’t know the ending or anything yet but I can say that it has pretty clever mechanics and excellent level design. (I might be the only person who didn’t play this through in one sitting like I imagine you’re supposed to, so if you want to try Inside, I recommend you make sure you have three free hours ahead of you.)

But the winner is…

Stardew Valley
Developer: ConcernedApe | 26.2.2016 | List Price: $14.99 | Buy from Steam
I really didn’t expect to like Stardew Valley as much as I did. I’d actually tried it on PC when it first came out at the beginning of the year, but it didn’t catch my attention for long. But when it came out of PS4 my unit was conveniently on a week-long block leave, so I decided to give it another go. Fast-forward three weeks and I still can’t stop thinking about this game! Seriously, after I finish writing this article, even though I still have Inside to finish, I’ll probably play Stardew Valley.

You might wonder how a game about mundane things like farming, gathering resources, and fishing might still be interesting in 2016. After all, Harvest Moon has been around since the nineties and Minecraft has been rehashed to oblivion. But what those games are missing is the sheer charm of Stardew Valley. The vibrant palette of colours, the excellent sprite-work, and humourous writing set Stardew Valley apart from other farming sims. There’s so much thought and effort put into giving every facet of the game a certain personality and what’s even more impressive is that the entire game is the work of a single person, ConcernedApe.

In Stardew Valley, it’s really all up to you. The game is mainly about farming, so if you’re not into watering crops and playing with different fertilisers, then you’re probably not going to get into Stardew Valley. But you can also fish, forage, romance villagers, fulfill quests, mine, and fight monsters. There’s also an extensive cooking and crafting system that I can only compare to Rune Factory 4 but which is so much more involved. You see, you could simply grow crops and sell them, but that wouldn’t generate as much revenue as if you processed those raw materials into artisan goods or dishes. The game’s all about optimising your time and resources and it really rewards thought and careful planning.

But above all, Stardew Valley is simply a joy to play. The opening cinematic may be the only real plot you get, but it sums the game up well. For many people, games are a way to get away from the monotony and stress of work or school. Without a gripping story or life lesson or even, let’s be honest, innovative gameplay, Stardew Valley is content with just giving the player a delightful diversion from everyday life.

Until next time, check out the rest of our gaming reviews and articles.

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