What did I just say in my Sonic Adventure entry? I don't play Sonic for the level design. I play Sonic so sick jams play in the background as a cheesy story featuring anthropomorphic hedgehogs plays out. Moreover, I loved the different gameplay styles of the different characters, even if some of them sucked.
Sonic Forces has all of those things and a customizable OC Donut Steel who can wear crocs while they fist bump Sonic the Hedgehog. I have no idea why people rag on this game. It's literally the perfect Sonic game. Your incentive to 100% the game is getting more customizable options for your OC, thus Forces is the only time I have ever been incentivized to 100% a Sonic game. I want a specific color of DBZ Scouter, and I am going to get it.
The different Wispons are all super broken and insanely fun. I actually kinda forgot that Sonic is playable in this game, because who cares, the Avatar's stages are where it's really at. They also have all the biggest bangers.
Did you know that Sonic Forces was actually my first somewhat-serious speedgame? I had the Switch world record for Imperial Tower at one point (that point being about a week after the game's release). Last I checked it's still in the top... 10 ish? Being part of a community actively learning to break and route a new game, all on my own, was a super fun experience.
Pokémon Alpha Sapphire
I haven't played any Pokémon games after this one (well, that's a lie, I played like an hour of Moon then gave it away)... because, what's the point? Everything I want in a Pokémon game is right here. I'm good. Until something massive happens, I'm totally content with what Alpha Sapphire gave me.
The reason for this is that Contest Spectaculars are the only thing that matters to me about Pokémon anymore. I could not give less of a crap about the Pokémon battle system, I don't find it particularly interesting and all I really care about is catching Pokémon I think are cute and cool looking. Pokémon Contests get me. And NOW I get to dress up in idol getup while I put on a glam show with my Feebas? Now we are talking, my dudes. You bet I put my Super Secret Base to triple battle so I can throw out 3 Pokémon who all have the full-contest-ribbon animation to any visitors.
I also absolutely adore the Latios/Latias soaring mechanic. You can do loop-de-loops and dives for absolutely no reason. THIS IS WHAT I WANT FROM A POKÉMON GAME. I WANT TO FLY AROUND ON MY POKÉMON. THAT'S IT. AND I GOT IT!!!!
Team Aqua are idiots. Fantastic video game. Hoenn will always have a special place in my heart because the protagonist of the Hoenn arcs in the Pokémon Adventures manga is a tacky piece of garbage, and I love him so much. Thank you, ORAS, for my life.
The thing about New Danganronpa V3 is that its aesthetics and uniqueness carried it to my top 50 even though it has one of the most dumpster fire mystery endings of all time. On the other hand, Super Danganronpa 2 had a cool ending but very stupid "final boss", solid mysteries, and a cast that sucked so bad it's virtually irredeemable and definitely not on this list. Danganronpa is the only one that doesn't really have any of these issues. It has a bangin' OST, gruesome murders, weird logic bullet trial gameplay, interesting aesthetics, and overall a cast I really like. I like that it feels comparatively more "grounded" (if that is a word one could ever use to describe DR) and the final act is honestly awesome. The cast dynamic between who is essentially the protagonist and deuteragonist is excellent and developed really well.
Danganronpa is the only installment that has a cast I like, a mystery I like, a setting I like, and an ending I like. It also kickstarted one of the most weird ass VN series I've seen, and I need to admit that being part of the SomethingAwful Let's Play "fandom" in like 2012 was a very unique experience that added something indescribable to my opinion of it. I love this game. I actually bought it on Steam and was using it as a "speedgame" to practice my menuing skills (just inputs and sick jams, no mashing as it has a text skip hold button, honestly a great experience).
...Just remembered that the Kirigiri figure I preordered last year is shipping in a couple months. Poggers.
Panel de Pon
When I was little, my older sister really loved playing Tetris Attack. I liked watching her grind Endless mode, because I sucked so pvp was no fun. She would always do Blargg's stage because in her opinion it has the best music. Personally, I've always absolutely loved the entire soundtrack, and if I had to pick a favorite it might be Poochy's theme. Then again... check out the water theme, the bassline is to die for:
It was over a decade later that I learned the Japanese version of Tetris Attack originally starred anime fairies. I decided to try out that version a couple years ago, and. oh wow. I love it so much. I love that every character's garbage blocks have these cute faces on them and they're all stylized to match the character who sent them. Seeing the "final boss" (...for Easy/Normal, at least) explained everything about the weirdly unfitting BGM that plays during Bowser's stage in Tetris Attack. The bosses in cave are a cool dragon and a badass phoenix, and the actual final boss is [SPOILERS REDACTED], and she's a badass. The designs all rule. It's such a cool game, that even though I'll always love the Yoshi's Island reskin that was crafted with such care for overseas consumers, Panel de Pon in its adorable fairy glory is definitely my preferred version from here on out.
I'm still terrible at this game, but a desire to get less terrible at it got me to figure out how to set up a PS3 controller on my Wii with certain homebrew apps, so I can practice Panel de Pon with minimal injury to wrists (because doing this on a GameCube D-Pad is out of the question). Then of course a Switch version came out, but whatever. I already put in the effort on my Wii so might as well put it on the ole' CRT.
Persona 2: Innocent Sin
When I saw that Persona 5 looked to be doubling down on certain choices that turned me a bit off of Persona 4, I decided that maybe instead of complaining on the internet about games I've never played, I should instead go seek out games that look like ones I might like. Well, that didn't completely stop me from complaining on the internet about games I've never played, but it did get me to try Persona 2: Innocent Sin, and I am so glad I did because this game rules.
I didn't know what to expect because I'd never played a Persona game that wasn't fighting evil by moonlight/winning love by daylight. I had also never played a mainline Shin Megami Tensei game. This game absolutely blew me away... I played the PSP version, and I actually toggled the remixed OST back to the original, because, no shade at Shoji Meguro, but I think his remixes actually lose a bit of the atmosphere that made the original kick so much ass. Katatsumuri Mountain is one of the most impactful "dungeon" areas I've ever experienced in a game... there's an eerie ghost story about the history behind it informing the way you're meant to navigate it. It's chilling and brilliant. The opening cinematic is cool as hell and the cast's designs are so interesting compared to School Uniforms we are now more or less stuck with.
The only reason this game isn't higher... is my hatred for random encounter. Especially in the context of games like this where I need to navigate maps to solve puzzles and remember where I came from and where I am going, getting interrupted by random encounters all the time feels so intrusive, and because the battles are so easy they feel completely pointless. It's really not necessary to grind in this game so it just feels like interruption for the sake of interruption.
That frustration keeps this game from being an all-time favorite, but that single mechanic cannot undo everything else this game does excellently. The narrative is fascinating. The characters are fascinating. The setting is fascinating. It has an in-the-text bisexual protagonist, I'll be the first to admit it's portrayed vaguely enough you can call them BFFs if you really squint, but it is clearly a narrative intention for him to be interpreted that way. I love this game, and it is what convinced me to check out mainline SMT games at some point.
9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors
I wrote a big long essay on this one, but TL;DR it's all the best parts of Uchikoshi visual novels combined with fantastic puzzle design and an incredible ending. It's got murders and sci-fi BS and big brain plot twists. It's intense and awesome from start to finish. I am so glad I played the DS version, because the narrative is so uniquely designed around that console I can't imagine interacting with the story any other way. I had previously played Ever17, which is still one of Uchikoshi's most famous works, but it's a pure visual novel and a lot of the ideas it uses are revisited here, leaving it somewhat obsolete now in my mind. 999 is like... Ever17 Definitive Edition. I mean... it has puzzles!!!!!
See here for more details: https://www.vgfamily.com/post/9-hours-persons-and-or-doors-spoilers-only-after-a-point
Professor Layton and the Unwound Future
I don't cry playing video games as much as I used to, and I've never been a huge crier, but I CRIED LIKE SUCH A BABY AT THE END OF THIS GAME. I can vividly remember trying to read the text on screen through my blurry vision and trying to sniffle quietly, because it was definitely past my bedtime.
This game had pretty much everything I could ever want from a Professor Layton game. At the time I played it, I was more invested in the titular character and his protégé than anything else, so the fact that they were key players in the main mystery rather than outsiders made it all the more appealing. Would I still feel that way about it today? Who knows, and who cares. Because this game changed my life. Future Luke Triton was top tier husbando, Flora actually got the opportunity to solve some puzzles, the "reveal" was a somewhat standard Layton reveal (still great) and then is immediately subverted by an additional, far more tragic reveal, and it was just so good. The atmosphere in the clock shop that traverses time is one of the most impactful settings in the series, and then you have the other kind of "impact" where you put together a slot machine gun to shoot at bad guys.
Professor Layton and the Unwound Future is the exact mix of sentimental and hilarious, ridiculous and somber, atmospheric and wild, that I'd come to expect from the series. It is the quintessential Layton game, not so much as a standalone, but as the culmination of an absolutely wonderful trilogy.
Ace Attorney: Apollo Justice
If you've read my big long Dai Gyakuten Saiban essay you know how I feel about Apollo Justice. Its impact was undermined by the installments immediately following it, for reasons that I can guess at involving the context of Japan at the time as well as the commercial performance of the game. But that won't change the fact that this game kicks ass.
The problem with a long-running mystery series is that you are stuck with one of two outcomes: either the mysteries involve a bunch of unrelated parties and are all stand-alones, or you try to involve the main cast in them by retconning their backstories in every new installment and giving someone a new dad suddenly or whatever. Definitely not vagueing about any particulars in that case, definitely not. At any rate, Miles Edgeworth is probably not going to be the perpetrator in Ace Attorney 7. Your suspect pool diminishes and you write yourself into a corner in which your main cast can only play a limited role, otherwise it feels forced.
Apollo Justice brilliantly avoids this, by establishing a brand new protagonist and supporting cast, and sidelining the previous protagonist to an asshole mentor role. Now, everything is on the table again. The context is brand new and it can tell a brand new story. It also starts commenting on established norms in an interesting way and culminates in a climax that is about to change the format of the courts themselves, which would fundamentally change the gameplay moving forward. It ends on both a fantastic conclusion as well as a cliffhanger, just waiting to be resolved in an installment that would take the series to new heights.
...And then, uh, well. That didn't happen. Dual Destinies (which, to be clear, is a game I still really enjoy) kind of just pretends Apollo Justice's climax doesn't exist, and Spirit of Justice sort of addresses one of the hanging plot points in a way that's not very satisfying and is a bit retcon-y more than anything.
I will forever wonder what would have happened if this game got a proper follow-up, but unfortunately, Phoenix is too iconic so he had to be put back into the spotlight. Too bad that's the end of it, and there will never again be an Ace Attorney game that is fresh and new and fantastic and perfect. No more chances for something to tell a grand story across multiple installments and bring new ideas to the table. Definitely not one involving Sherlock Holmes. ...no spoileroonie.
(The game also has fantastic art direction compared to the Phoenix trilogy. Thanks Kazuya Nuri.)
Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
I'm pissing off every other Ace Attorney and Professor Layton fan in existence by putting this crossover above my favorites of either main series, but compared to putting Forces at the top of my Sonics I feel like this choice is pretty tame.
I love Ace Attorney. It has all those dramatic courtroom reveals I get to be a part of, allowing me a role in uncovering the mystery instead of having it revealed to me. The games have really exciting upbeat soundtracks and interesting stories and they are just fantastic.
I also love Professor Layton. The atmosphere in Layton games is unmatched and their soundtracks get pretty much universal praise. I adore solving puzzles and the process of uncovering some totally BS mystery that is still somehow both satisfying and magical.
Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney gave me the atmosphere and puzzles of Layton, and the active gameplay of Ace Attorney. I think a lot of Ace Attorney fans really hate the ending because it seems like complete horsesh*t, but honestly it's pretty par for the course as far as Layton reveals go and it felt more to me like the original Layton trilogy had than any of the prequel installments of that series. And playing an Ace Attorney-style game where it isn't just about ballistic markings (which are the finger prints of a gun, blahblah blah) and instead using spells and magic as evidence... it was such an interesting and fresh concept, the journey was absolutely wild.
When I finished this game, I knew that I was in love, and I knew that I wanted to play something else like it but I had no idea what that would possibly be. Something with just a little more polish, more cohesiveness, something that just sells me on it that much more with the same magic but a stronger cast and logic. Too bad that the creative team who worked on it definitely never went on to create anything else. ...no spoileroonie.
Tales of Zestiria
This is the only Tales of game where you undergo Super Saiyan anime fusion with your elemental ghost friends and get a big fire anime sword and absolutely decimate your foes with it. This is also the only Tales of game where the "main relationship" (heavy quotations because Tales of games are more about the Power of Friendship than anything else; but there is always a very heavily implied primary relationship in there) is an M/M romance, and I am not about to get into ~fujobait discourse~ here so I'll just say that was a nice change of pace.
I absolutely love the cast dynamics and battle system in Zestiria, and its atmosphere is magical. It feels colorful and bright high fantasy which is exactly what I wanted out of it. The trial themes were composed by Go Shiina and they are masterful compositions, but the overworld and battle themes are also some of Sakuraba's most solid work. The game is an absolute pleasure to experience and the world is really fun to traverse. You also get to pick up customization objects and the extent to which you are permitted to tweak them is actually bonkers. You can stack 2 hats and have the top one extend to lengths that will put Doug Dimmadome to shame. You could instead go for a Therapy Cat and top knot. The world is your oyster.
Yes, its ending makes no sense. It has a narrative that's all over the place. It is clearly unfinished. But the cast is phenomenal, the atmosphere is phenomenal, the battle system is so ridiculously fun, that I really really do not care at all. I haven't been interested in a Tales battle system since Abyss but the appeal of big anime swords is too much for me, and Armatization is just too good. Overpowered? Sure. Fun? Hell yes.