There are few things quite as satisfying as the feeling of returning alive from an epic battle with a massive monster, of triumphing over a difficult foe and turning their talons into sweet armour. This sense of mastery, combined with the strong presentation, diverse and complex weapons and the endearing but unobtrusive story make Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate come together into one wonderful package.
Yoko Taro's wild ideas and Platinum's workmanlike approach to action game design are a match made in heaven. NieR Automata manages to be shocking and moving in ways that very few games are, beautifully presenting philosophical concepts that will take a long time to unpack. This is a game that people will still be talking about twenty years down the line.
The way 428: Shibuya Scramble is presented is unlike any other translated title, but if you value games with strong stories you owe it to yourself to not let this creative crime drama fly under the radar. Like Shibuya's scramble crossing, the events are chaotic and the passing moments between characters are sometimes fleeting, but crossing that iconic intersection is one hell of a memorable experience.
If you embrace the cheesiness of the whole thing you'll find that this wonderful idol trash makes for an excellent original JRPG. Like its cast of wannabe singers and actors, Tokyo Mirage Sessions never aspires to do anything more than entertain, but it does that very well.
There are some annoying omissions, but Pokémon Sun & Moon are so charming that it's easy to forgive their shortcomings. The island setting of Alola is bursting with detail and this is the best the series has ever been as far as the story and characters go.
The story of survival at the heart of the game is pulled off well thanks to an endearing cast of characters who all have a unique perspective and purpose. Ys VIII is hardly thematically rich, but it's so satisfying to play, tapping into that primal desire to pull off flashy combos at high speeds and watch that map percentage slowly creep up. Rather than one of shambling prehistoric beasts that populate Seiran, Ys VIII is no dinosaur and this is the freshest and most fun the series has been for a while.
While Monster Hunter: World pulls off the same satisfying style of hunting in a way that makes the setting feel more alive and more approachable for new players, there’s still room for improvement. Capcom are kings of the iterative sequel, so I’m sure that we’ll see even more monsters and hopefully a rethink of the multiplayer matchmaking in the near future.
The lineup of locations are the strongest in the series and I adored the depiction of the Disney worlds as vast playgrounds where you can explore, battle and take selfies to your heart's content. Kingdom Hearts III exhibits quality from every expensive edge, with a presentation that matches Disney’s animated output and a phenomenal score by Square-Enix’s composers.
It's a game where the ultimate villain is political apathy, but in the process of telling a story about social justice Persona 5 falls back to cheap stereotypes and the same conservative values that it's supposed to be trying to overturn. But god damn those menus and music are nice! The visual stylings, gameplay systems and confidant narratives combine to create a technically proficient package that does make parts of the game more palatable
Birthright is at its best when it's expanding on the ideas presented in Fire Emblem Awakening, not simply rehashing them. The strategy segments are some of the strongest in the series thanks to some welcome mechanical changes and do an decent job of compensating for the game's weak plot.
Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire are still good games, even if Hoenn isn't as much fun to explore as later regions in the series. The unique elements like secret bases, the PokeNav and the ability to dress Pikachu up as a luchador are worthwhile additions that make this excursion different enough to the one from back in 2003.
There might not be as much payoff as some may like but Trails of Cold Steel does a lot more than just setting up events for the sequel. I found myself immersed in an interesting industrial setting with a rich history, exploring the motivations behind a likeable bunch of characters and mediating the conflicts between the nation’s social classes. It's a lengthy game, especially if you feel compelled to talk to every NPC, but Trails of Cold Steel does a great job of rewarding this kind of obsessive behaviour.
The dungeon design is very strong and the structure makes the game light on backtracking. Unless you run out of keys, you'll always be pushing through new areas, uncovering new loot, fighting challenging new foes and gradually growing stronger. Xanadu Next isn't a perfect experience, but those willing to master the controls will find a satisfying title that's absolutely worth playing through.
Though the stats are simple and each turn is very brief, the huge range of units to fight and build a team around means there is a virtually limitless number of ways to approach each challenge. This flexibility is hampered slightly by the restrictive gem system and the fact that you can only battle AI players, but Moekuri succeeds at what it sets out to do: it's a solid strategy RPG with plenty of inventive ideas and more than enough moe.
Although the story never amounts to much more than listing off sci-fi tropes, it keeps the adventure moving between fun setpieces. Where Cosmic Star Heroine really surprised me was by having one of my favourite turn-based battle systems that gives players a lot of options without ever overwhelming them. What could've been a lazy throwback to better 16-bit RPGs in less capable hands turned into one of the best indie RPGs in recent memory.
The changes made in Culdcept Revolt seem very minor, but they improve the flow of matches considerably by speeding up matches and getting to the exciting parts faster. For those who haven't played Culdcept before, the improved presentation and explanations in the single-player Quest make this a great point to try it out.