Perhaps foolishly, I came into 2014 with a great deal of optimism.
The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One were freshly out of their boxes and sitting under my TV, and I was eagerly awaiting what Sony and Microsoft would do to usher in the next generation of games.
To my disappointment, 2014 has been a year where games were released half-finished, broken, or just poorly executed good ideas.
As Gaming Trend’s Lead News Editor, I have written up dozens of news stories on patch notes, apologies from developers and publishers for broken games, and frankly been subject to quite a bit of disappointment when new IP like Destiny, Titanfall, and Watch Dogs, games with enough hype to set the world on fire, were mediocre at worst, and underwhelming at best.
The result was that much of my attention this year went to established series that I already loved. When it came to the continuation of stories and characters that I already had an attachment to, I actually was the farthest thing from let down. I got to see what came next for plenty of characters that I adored, and made a few new connections along the way.
However, one new series in particular made an impression that put nearly everything else that came out this year to shame.
Without further ado, here are my top ten games of 2014.
10. Dark Souls II
In a way, putting Dark Souls II on this list feels a little disingenuous. There wasn’t a moment of playing Dark Souls II that I actively enjoyed, but I kind of look at the game as a rival that I admire, rather than a friend I actually want to be around for extended periods of time.
Dark Souls II is a game that treats the player with no respect. It aims to break you down and destroy you, and it does that without pulling any punches.
The game’s insane difficulty isn’t a matter of bad design, but intentional design. After my time with Dark Souls II, I was left broken and battered, and never wanting to return. But looking back, I understood it, and I reflect on it with awe. Dark Souls II is not for me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t understand how spectacularly it does what it sets out to do.
9. Broken Age: Act I
One of my biggest disappointments this year was that Broken Age’s second act didn’t make its way to Steam in time for me to list the game as a whole on my top ten.
Broken Age’s first act was the first game I remember buying this year, and I still remember it incredibly fondly. Double Fine’s point-and-click roots were something I had previously only really known by reputation, but it was something I had a great respect for despite having little real exposure to it. In a way, Broken Age was my way of making up for all that missed history.
The fact that so much charm, heart and humor was packed into the game’s first half has the game’s inevitable conclusion ranking at the top of the games I’m most excited for next year. Shay and Vella’s stories have only just become explicitly intertwined, and I can’t wait to see how Double Fine untangles the knots the first act of Broken Age ties in its final moments.
8. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
It’s strange, Nintendo and I are somewhat on the outs these days, but Super Smash Bros., a crossover fighter bringing together all of Nintendo’s iconic characters, is probably my favorite series that comes from the company.
The merriment I feel when playing as Pikachu and brawling with decades of Nintendo history with friends hasn’t worn off after all these years, and despite the fact that I don’t care for much that Nintendo does these days, watching their giant roster of characters clash still fills me with nostalgic glee that only Smash Bros. can.
When Nintendo brings out a Smash Bros. game, you know you’re about to open a game that you’ll be playing for years to come, and the Wii U iteration further confirms that fact.
7. Persona 4 Arena Ultimax
Anyone who is immersed in the fighting game community, whether it’s on the development or competitive side, will tell you that making a fighting game is very much an iterative process.
However, when I play Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, I can’t really fathom how Arc System Works could possibly improve upon it.
What was once a strange spin-off for Persona JRPG series has become probably my favorite fighting game I’ve ever played. It’s fast, flashy, deep, with a full roster of varied and viable fighters that originate from two of my favorite games of all time. Its story mode is full of references and meaningful crossover material that makes it a worthy expansion to Persona 3 and 4, and it leaves both casts in a place where I’m okay with leaving them behind.
Can Arc System Works improve upon what seems to be perfection? Probably. But I don’t think it has to. Ultimax is everything I could have wanted from a Persona fighting game, something I never would have thought I wanted before playing it.
6. Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII
“We don’t need God anymore.”
These are among Lightning’s last lines in Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, the conclusion of the XIII trilogy. Here, one of Final Fantasy’s most iconic (if not very divisive) faces underlines the point of her story. The Final Fantasy series has never been a stranger to challenging religion, but the XIII trilogy’s always been about challenging gods and their indifference toward their effect on the human race.
This is only more present in the last game, as the core of Lightning Returns revolves around its heroine doing God’s bidding by shepherding the people left in the game’s desolated world to a new one.
There’s a lot about Lightning Returns that is worth critiquing, primarily its impenetrable story, but how the game tackles the idea of the end of the world and the religious ramifications of it is full of stories that are profound and moving. When people are faced with the end, they focus on what matters, and there are plenty of stories in Lightning Returns of coming to terms with death, letting go of the past, and finding strength in moving forward in a land where they are free to choose their fate and no longer at the whim of a god.
Lightning swims through a sea of incredible stories on her way to the new world, and seeing her finally happy without being bound to a god who sees her as a tool was the perfect way to cap her own tale off.
5. The Last of Us: Left Behind
As someone who left The Last of Us viewing it as a “complete” experience, I was slightly wary of any sort of DLC that Naughty Dog was going to put out for the game. However, what I found in Left Behind was not only something completely unintrusive to the core of The Last of Us, but something that expanded upon one of its main characters in a way that we never got to see in the original game.
Ellie’s origin story is one that needed to be told. Left Behind brings new meaning to nearly everything that she and Joel go through in the main game’s story, as it shows it’s not just a story of a girl trying to save the world, it’s a story of Ellie trying to make up for what she perceives is weakness in being unable to save those she loves.
Ellie was a nuanced character in The Last of Us before, Left Behind just solidifies her place as one of the industry’s finest.
4. Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea, Episode 2
Not unlike Bioshock Infinite proper’s ending, the ending of Burial at Sea, Episode 2 took a moment to wash over me when I finished it. Granted, it wasn’t like the original game’s ending where it took me time to process and understand everything I’d seen, but it did take a moment for my mind to react to everything I saw in the expansion’s final moments.
When the credits started rolling, and everything came together, I couldn’t hold back the uncontrollable sobbing that Burial at Sea’s finale had elicited.
I suspected that bringing Infinite’s Booker and Elizabeth into the world of the original Bioshock would bring the world of Columbia and Rapture together, but I wasn’t prepared for how true that would be, and I was even less prepared for the emotional gut punch that came from the consequence of the connections Burial at Sea made between the sky and the sea.
I don’t know what’s next for Bioshock, but one thing is for certain: the circle has been unbroken.
3. Infamous: Second Son
I didn’t have to wait very long for Sony to release a game on the PlayStation 4 that I’m confident will stick with me throughout the console’s lifetime, because Infamous: Second Son is one of those games.
There aren’t a lot of games that can adequately create the feeling of being a superhero (or villain if you prefer), but Infamous: Second Son is the closest I’ve ever felt to being a superhuman. From effortlessly crossing the city of Seattle to destroying waves of those who dared to stand in my way, Delsin Rowe’s story made me feel like an unstoppable force, even in the face of the tragedy that surrounded my time in Seattle. Delsin’s family ties that were present throughout the game mirrored my own, which gave everything that went down in Second Son an even greater sense of weight. Weight that made me much more attached to Delsin than I ever expected to be.
Even now, I find myself putting in Second Son just to run around Seattle, and I can see myself doing that until Sucker Punch releases whatever comes next.
2. Dragon Age: Inquisition
Dragon Age: Inquisition is going to show up on a lot of the Gaming Trend staff’s year-end lists. Some of us are going to talk about the wonders of exploring its huge world, the painful choices we had to make along the way, and the game’s perfection of the series’ tactical combat.
However, for me, Dragon Age: Inquisition was a love story.
From the moment I met Dorian Pavus, to the end when my Inquisitor, August Trevelyan, stood embraced by him on his balcony in Skyhold, the ongoing story I was forging between these two was my primary motivation to see the game through to the end. Even with the beautiful moments where the two came together, it wasn’t without moments that my eyes welled up with tears in anger and heartbreak.
Dorian and August’s relationship informed every world-changing decision I made, was the driving force between every step I took, and is why Inquisition will remain in my heart for years to come.
My list is full of a ton of established series, many of which rank highly in my all-time list. I fully expected Infamous or Dragon Age to take the top spot in a list of my favorite games of 2014, but at the beginning of this year, I found a pair of games that, much to my surprise, occupied my headspace more holistically than any of the others that were coming from something I already held dear. My favorite games of the year were Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair.
Danganronpa, the story of an academy turned murderous nightmare is the game that will stay with me longer than anything else I played this year. In this visual novel, 15 students are trapped in a school in which the only means of escape they have is to murder one of their classmates and deceive everyone else who attempts to unveil the killer. Never before has a game made me so wary of the characters I wanted to love, feel so clever for unraveling the murders they carried out, but still traumatized when I had to watch them suffer the consequences.
After all the mysteries were solved and the reality of Danganronpa’s world was laid before me, I found myself in awe of its intricate story, a story that is now among my favorites in the video game medium, all centering around a villain who I hold in similarly high regard.
Even up against the continuation of some of my favorite franchises, ten months after the original game was released, Danganronpa has a stronger hold on me than any other game that came out this year, one that most games can only dream of.
For more of the Gaming Trend staff’s favorite games of the year, check out our GOTY coverage hub.