2019 is coming to an end and with it another year of Adventure Rules. This year has been a challenging one in many ways, but at the end of the day the blog managed to come out the other side relatively unscathed with plenty of exciting video games and even a handful of board games to talk about. Today I want to look back on the year not from the perspective of my personal life or professional life but from the perspective of the games I have discussed on Adventure Rules over the past year. What games did I play this year, and which ones stood out to me as being the best in their class?
Here’s how the Awards Extravaganza works. I take the fifteen video games I’ve played this year and arrange them into categories of three games each – most of these categories will make logical sense, but there is one sort of overflow category where I kind of had to make up the theme based on the games in it instead of putting games in it based on the theme. For each category I’ll talk briefly about each game – linking to more in-depth articles if you want to read more about my experience with it – before finally explaining why the winner of that category is the one that will take the cake for me. Keep in mind that I’m not basing these rankings on any kind of “objective” criteria in the sense that I am not ranking them based on what the perception of other players might have been, sales, critical acclaim, anything like that. This article reflects my personal experiences with each game because that’s the core of what makes Adventure Rules unique. If you want the court of public opinion, just watch the actual Game Awards!
A few other things to keep in mind. Only video games will be eligible for the final Game of the Year category. In this sense, you can treat the board game category as being a bonus, and I’ll use it to break up the flow so that game articles aren’t all stacked on top of each other. Also note that the games present in the Awards Extravaganza are based on me playing and finishing them this year and covering them on Adventure Rules, so not all of the games featured here were actually released in 2019. Now that the grounds rules have all been laid out, let the Adventure Rules 2019 Award Extravaganza begin!
CATEGORY: BEST STRATEGY GAME
There are few things I love more than moving units on a grid, racking my brain to choose the correct move while thinking three steps ahead about how to overcome my opposition with as little threat to my units as possible. Strategy games rank highly on my list of preferred genres and this year I had the opportunity to play three that took very different approaches to the genre.
INTO THE BREACH
Into the Breach is a strategy game that tells the story of an apocalyptic future. Alien beings called vek have torn the earth apart, leaving only a handful of corporation-controlled islands to stave off the menace. You play as a group of time-traveling mech pilots who use giant combat machines to destroy the vek and protect the islands. Each playthrough of the game is a single timeline and if you fail, that timeline is forever recorded as one which was lost. Your goal is to save as many timelines as possible, carrying over a single time traveler each time. As you experience the game again and again, the travelers you bring into future timelines accumulate a history of successes and failures, giving your version of that character their own unique narrative as they experience multiple timelines.
Into the Breach ties story and mechanics together effectively and utilizes the power of telegraphing to make its challenges unique. While in many strategy games the mystery of where your opponent’s units are located or what actions they may take is part of the challenge, Into the Breach instead tells you exactly what is going to happen and challenges you to do something about it. How can you position your units to prevent the vek from smashing the buildings you are protecting while also preserving your mechs while also meeting the secondary requirements for the mission so that you receive the maximum rewards? Into the Breach gives you too much to care about and not enough resources to protect those interests, forcing you to make hard choices and making every battle a miniature puzzle.
In the style of the tactics game classic Advance Wars, Wargroove is a unit-based strategy game that tells the story of a peaceful kingdom thrown into turmoil by the dark ambition of a neighboring king. Princess Mercia survives the destruction of her kingdom and must journey to other lands to try and forge alliances in order to give her a fighting chance against the necromancer king to conspires against the world. Alongside her army of battlepups, Mercia learns to lead her soldiers on the battlefield and take advantage of each unit type’s strengths and weaknesses as she faces enemies from all of the kingdoms on the continent.
As a unit-based game, Wargroove focuses heavily on resource management. You have multiple unit types which each have their own strengths and weaknesses. You capture key locations to build wealth and use that wealth to buy units to send out against the enemy. Your units are at their strongest when they are fresh, their attack power lowering as they suffer more and more damage. Unit positioning is key as critical attacks are the result not of random chance but instead result from placing your units in specific ways. The game also features unique commanders who have special abilities that compliment the strategy of their forces, allowing you to take actions such as healing or buffing the soldiers under your command.
FIRE EMBLEM: THREE HOUSES
When silent protagonist Byleth saves a group of royals on their way to the Officer’s Academy, (s)he is recruited to teach as a professor at the school and becomes responsible for one of the game’s titular three houses. Based on the house you choose, certain details of the story change and the characters who fight alongside you differ, allowing you to meet a new cast of friends hear their side of the looming war that will ultimately shatter the peace between three nations. Between all of these countries and central to their conflict is the Church of Seiros, a powerful but suspicious organization dedicated to the service of a goddess to whom Byleth has mysterious connections.
Fire Emblem has more RPG elements than the other two games in this category, featuring unique units who change classes, gain levels, and form relationships in order to give them advantages in battle. Characters learn weapon skills partly from practice on the battlefield and partly from instruction by Byleth, and as they master weapons they unlock new classes which give them additional abilities to bring to bear. On the battlefield, characters build friendships that lead to conversations off the battlefield which expand the personal history of those characters, allowing you to learn more about your students and the world they live in. Fire Emblem sings most effectively when all of these mechanisms are thoroughly engaged and work together to push you through challenging circumstances.
And the winner is…………
INTO THE BREACH!
Into the Breach is a mechanical masterpiece that would often suck me in so deeply that I lost track of time, playing until 2 or 3 in the morning with a laser focus on the battles. The bite-sized tactical puzzles are engaging in every moment, and even the act of choosing which missions to undergo is in itself a part of the overall strategy of the game. There are lots of different mechs to try out and seeing how their tactics work together is a big part of the game’s appeal, and learning how to combine unique pilot abilities with those mechs expands your tactical options even further. Into the Breach didn’t just show me a good time, it actually changed my philosophy on strategy game design and demonstrated how giving the player more information, not less, is the key to unlocking exciting new gameplay opportunities.
CATEGORY: BEST POKEMON GAME
Gotta catch ’em all! Pokemon is a franchise that’s been important to me since my childhood, capturing the wonders of exploration and discovery as well as offering simple and yet surprisingly deep turn-based combat. This year I played three different games in the world of Pokemon, so the Award Extravaganza felt like a great opportunity to look at them together!
POKEMON LET’S GO
This game came out in 2018 but since I received it as a Christmas gift, I didn’t really dig into the game until the beginning of this year. Let’s Go tells the story of a young trainer who begins their Pokemon journey in the region of Kanto. It is the classic story of Red and Blue but reimagined for a modern-day audience, so for someone like me who experienced the original games back on the Game Boy this game combines 90’s nostalgia with modern sensibilities.
Let’s Go also combines the classic Pokemon gameplay with mechanics from Pokemon GO, the mobile game by Niantic. This includes simplifying the battle system through the removal of held items and Pokemon abilities as well as changing the process of capturing Pokemon to incorporate motion-controlled Pokeball throws without actually having to weaken the Pokemon in combat first. These decisions make the game easier for new players to engage with but also remove some of the key elements that longtime fans use to drive the competitive scene.
A deviation from the classic Pokemon experience, Detective Pikachu is a spin-off that inspired the first (partly) live-action Pokemon film. It tells the story of Tim Goodman, a young man whose detective father went missing under mysterious circumstances. Tim partners up with his father’s Pokemon, Pikachu, in order to solve the mystery of his father’s disappearance as well as repeated cases of Pokemon going berserk and causing problems for their human partners. Tim can talk to humans, Pikachu can talk to Pokemon, and the two of them can talk to each other – together, they’re better equipped than anybody to solve the mysteries of Ryme City.
In genre, Detective Pikachu is a mystery game. You enter an environment and examine it for clues while also having conversations with victims, witnesses, and suspects. You bring the clues together to reach conclusions which drive the scenario forward. Any action scenes take place as quick-time events, although there are a few minigames to experience along the way as well. Unlike most Pokemon experiences, the core of Detective Pikachu is its story and characters, with the gameplay mechanisms simply providing an interactive vehicle through which to experience those things.
POKEMON SWORD AND SHIELD
The latest entry into the Pokemon series explores the region of Galar, a land based on the United Kingdom. In Galar Pokemon battling is a live sports competition that serves as the primary form of entertainment for the populace, and young children compete in the gym challenge as the qualifying round for a tournament which will pit them against the region’s many gym leaders. During your adventures, you also work alongside the professor’s assistant Sonia to discover the secrets behind the mysterious legends of Galar’s past.
Pokemon Sword and Shield are the games in this list which most capture what series veterans would call the classic Pokemon experience. The game took influence from Let’s Go in its incorporation of Pokemon encounters in the overworld but also does a lot of its own things. The biggest new mechanic is the Wild Area, an open environment with varying weather and a day/night cycle where the player can make an effort to capture all kinds of different Pokemon. While this game struggles more than most Pokemon titles with storytelling, it makes up for it with strong mechanical choices that promise plenty of potential for multiplayer interactions.
And the winner is……………
Honestly I am really torn with this category. Sword and Shield is a great game mechanically that offers ease of access for new players while also having depth that will likely make the community aspects of the game highly engaging. However, if I’m realistic about it the chances of me actually investing a lot of time in playing competitive are low, meaning that I’d be giving Pokemon Sword the victory based on hype or potential rather than lived experience. The game also has a painfully weak story with a villain who feels utterly tone deaf in our current climate (pun intended). Conversely, Detective Pikachu has a fun story with endearing characters. It is mechanically simple but it knows what it is, and it does a better job than mainline Pokemon titles at showing us a world where Pokemon are something more than battle machines. For its quirky sense of humor and straightforward-yet-engaging mystery, Detective Pikachu wins the title for best Pokemon game I played this year.
CATEGORY: BEST MYTHOLOGICAL GAME
I warned you that there’d be an overflow category, right? Unfortunately these three games didn’t fit cleanly into any of the other categories and realistically they probably don’t belong in a category together, but there is a common theme that loosely ties them: references to real-world mythology.
SUPER SMASH BROS ULTIMATE
This game is easily the biggest reach with the mythology theme, but it features a number of characters who take inspiration from real-world myth. The most obvious example is Pit, a character whose temporary power of flight is inspired by Icarus (that inspiration also extends to the title of his game). In a way, the “mythology” of Smash Bros is really the extended universe of Nintendo games that it combines. Regardless, Smash Bros is a fighting game that brings together a variety of Nintendo franchises for a multiplayer romp of epic proportions.
Smash is a fighting game that is easy to learn but hard to master. Attacks result from pressing one of two buttons along with a directional input, but once you start blending in technical considerations like vulnerability frames, combos, attack priority, knockback distance, perfect shielding – all of these factors come together to make a fighting game that can be as technical or as mad-cap as you want it to be. Smash Ultimate has an extensive single-player mode called World of Light that takes way too long to find its stride, but the game is ultimately about multiplayer and it delivers on the core multiplayer experience with a number of fun new game modes to engage.
AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES
Taking inspiration from Egyptian myths, such as the goddess Set or the legend of the Eye of Horus, The Somnium Files tells the story of a detective investigating the crimes of a wicked serial killer. This killer takes the left eye of the victim, a mysterious coincidence as the player character Kanami Date also is missing his left eye. Detective Date investigates crimes using two forms of advanced technology: one is his mechanical left eyeball Aiba which allows him to use thermal scan, x-ray, and telepathic computer hacking to find information; the other is a Psync machine which allows Date to inhabit the dreams of other people, discovering subconscious truths that their conscious mind can’t or won’t admit.
As a mystery game, AI focuses less on mechanisms and more on the storytelling. Real-world investigations are spent occasionally examining clues in the environment but primarily talking to other characters and navigating dialogue options with them. Dream-world sequences feature puzzles where each interaction with an object or character reduces the time on a six-minute clock, challenging you to find the correct path forward with as little wasted time as possible. AI’s gameplay is pretty standard for its genre and is weaker than similar games such as Zero Escape, but the story is one of the best I have seen.
DRAGON QUEST XI S
Inspired by the myth of the tree of life, Yggdrasil, Dragon Quest XI tells the story of a young man who was chosen by the tree to stop the forces of darkness from destroying the world. Known as the Luminary, this man sets out on a quest to stop the Dark One and along the way meets a varied cast of characters each with own motivations and desires. Like many games in the Dragon Quest series, XI has an episodic structure with each “chapter” of the game focusing on the goings-on within a single community, all tied together by an overarching story. Compared to previous Dragon Quest entries, the overarching story has more to offer and is a clearer driving force behind the action.
Mechanically, Dragon Quest XI iterates on its predecessors while adding a number of quality of life improvements. If you’ve played Dragon Quest before then XI will not surprise you, but if you know you love Dragon Quest then this game may very well be the pinnacle of what that formula is capable of. The story is as lengthy as any other Dragon Quest but is well-paced and features characters who are endearing and varied, with more meaningful personal arcs than are typically offered by the Dragon Quest experience.
And the winner is…….
DRAGON QUEST XI S!
I had a lot of fun with the Somnium Files this year and I think there is a lot to be said for the way in which it tells its story, but mechanically I felt it didn’t live up to other games in a similar genre such as Zero Escape. Smash Ultimate may be the ultimate game in the series from a multiplayer perspective, but the World of Light single player campaign was a trial that I did not enjoy pushing through. Conversely, Echoes of an Elusive Age is truly the ultimate version of the Dragon Quest experience. It expanded meaningfully on the skill system and combat mechanics while telling a more engaging story with better characters. In many ways, Dragon Quest is the quintessential JRPG – like a well-loved comfort food, it may not surprise you but that doesn’t hold it back from being enjoyable.
CATEGORY: BEST BOARD GAME
Let’s take a break from video games to talk about the board games I’ve played this year! Unlike the other categories, this one will have four entries as it felt silly to try to pick one of these games to leave out. Because of that I will also make an effort to keep these descriptions more brief. So let’s talk about some board games!
SCOTT PILGRIM’S PRECIOUS LITTLE CARD GAME
In Scott Pilgrim, players either competitively or cooperatively face off against one of the infamous Evil Exes. Each player chooses a character and uses the resources available to that character – romance, music, or work – in order to purchase cards from a shared pool of options called the plotline. These additional cards provide resources that you can use to earn victory points either by purchasing them directly from the plotline or by defeating enemies in the combat phase. Because each character has a different strategy and each Evil Ex has their own abilities to bring to the table, your approach will vary from game to game. This game sounds complicated on paper but is simple to learn once you get going.
BETRAYAL AT BALDUR’S GATE
This Dungeons and Dragons reskin of the beloved Betrayal at the House on the Hill is a game in which players don’t know the win conditions of the game until partway through. It takes place in two phases: the first phase is spent building out the game board and building resources to help you claim victory. The second phase is called the haunt, and during this time one of the players probably becomes the game’s villain – the traitor – while the rest of the group work together to meet a victory condition. The two phases of the game allow you to spend time casually learning the rules before buckling down and engaging the mechanisms more deeply, but in some ways the rules of the game can be somewhat unclear.
CALL TO ADVENTURE
In this card game, you play an adventurer and build up the legend around them by identifying their origin, exploring their motivation, and working to achieve their destiny. In these three phases of the game you’ll have four challenges to choose from and cast runes in order to complete those challenges. Succeed and you add the rewards of that challenge to your character’s story. You earn points at the end of the game based on the number and type of cards in your story. There are lots of mechanisms to engage with in Call to Adventure – a morality and corruption system, experience points, the decision to match cards with identical symbols to become more powerful or to vary your symbols so you can attempt a variety of challenges. Call to Adventure is more time-consuming and mechanically complex than the other games in this category, but for those who like complex and strategic games it has a lot to offer.
Villainous may be a licensed game by Disney, but I was surprised by how much this board game ultimately appealed to me. You choose one of Disney’s iconic villains and then work to achieve their personal goals using the resources available to them. Each turn you choose a space on your own personal board to move to, unlocking different actions which you can then take. Those actions help you to earn power needed to play cards that move you closer to victory, but you have to watch out for the dangerous Fate cards that other players can activate against you. Villainous offers a different experience depending on which villain you choose, which is mostly positive, but be wary that the balance is off and some villains can be much harder to win with than others.
And the winner is……….
When I play a board game there are a few features I am looking for: mechanical depth, ease of learning the game, and a relatively short length of play. Scott Pilgrim is the sweet spot here. It has enough interesting mechanics to be engaging with a number of villains who require you to approach the game differently as well as multiple playable characters who each use different strategies. Despite this, it only took the group I played with one round of play to understand the fundamental mechanics, and once we understood how to play the act of playing the game didn’t take multiple hours. I’d gladly play any of these games as I enjoyed them all, but out of the bunch Scott Pilgrim is the one I can see myself playing and enjoying the most.
CATEGORY: BEST ZELDA GAME
The Zelda series has been with me throughout my life, and each opportunity to experience a game in this series is one that I relish. Link’s courage is an inspiration and the world of Hyrule is one rife with potential for countless stories. So what stories did I experience this year?
CADENCE OF HYRULE
When a young explorer named Cadence stumbles through a mysterious portal, she finds herself in the land of Hyrule. A villain called Octavo has invaded Hyrule and occupied the castle to advance what our heroes can only assume is a sinister plan – only by gathering magical instruments can Octavo be overcome. Cadence begins this journey and then passes the torch to either Link or Zelda, with the three characters eventually coming together to overcome Octavo and save Hyrule from his machinations.
In Cadence of Hyrule, characters move on a grid to the beat of the music. Attacking and using items is done on-beat as well – unless you choose not to. One of the great things about Cadence of Hyrule is that it uses a number of game modes to offer varied options to the player, making it as accessible or as difficult as you want it to be. The world map always uses the same tiles but is seeded randomly each game, and the dungeons are procedurally generated. Cadence of Hyrule is tough in the early game but it’s a fun way to experience the world of Zelda through a totally different genre.
A LINK TO THE PAST
The Zelda game that’s the same age as me! A Link to the Past is a game that I attempted as a kid but never progressed very far of my own power. This year, the SNES online service on the Switch finally gave me the chance to experience this game in full. For those who may not know, A Link to the Past tells the story of Link as he hears a mysterious voice calling out to him from Hyrule Castle. A wizard named Agahnim is kidnapping young maidens in an effort to power his dark magic, and his evil plans lead Link to a dark and twisted world where Ganon and his minions run rampant.
Experiencing an SNES Zelda in the modern day presented some challenges. Game design has changed since then, in some ways due to new philosophies and in others due to growth in the power of the technology. My modern sensibilities bumped heads with A Link to the Past in many ways, but it was interesting to see how elements I know and love about the Zelda series first made their appearance in this game. It was influential in ways I did not recognize until I experienced it for myself.
This Nintendo Switch remake allowed me to experience another game that I tried – and failed – to finish as a kid, and to do so with some modern conveniences and enhanced graphics. Link’s Awakening is a unique Zelda game in that it focuses not on Hyrule but on a little island called Koholint where Link’s boat has crashed upon the shore. Link learns that finding his way home requires him to wake a being called the Wind Fish, but the journey to do so reveals the true nature of the island and what it will cost for Link to return home.
Mechanically, Link’s Awakening is a classic Zelda experience. You explore an overworld to find dungeons which grant you new items that allow you overcome challenges which previously served as roadblocks. Each dungeon ends with a boss that tests your ability to use your new tool, which you can then take outside of the dungeon to explore parts of the overworld you haven’t experienced yet. What makes Link’s Awakening stand out is the way in which the tools give you not only new ways of attacking enemies but new ways of moving through the environment, and combining tools together creates exciting new options for exploration and combat.
And the winner is…………
Link’s Awakening is everything I love about the world of Zelda. Simple but endearing characters, a story that isn’t overly complicated but is still emotionally impactful, and unique dungeons with fun tools that expand your ability to explore the world. Each tool in Link’s Awakening feels satisfying because they make it fun to run around the game world, and each one works together in interesting ways. Mechanically this is one of the most solid Zelda experiences I have ever had, and finally finishing it has led me to reorganize my list of favorite Zelda games.
CATEGORY: BEST ABANDONED GAME
Often there are video games that we intend to finish but simply do not, or games that we start but realize partway through that we don’t care enough about them to push through. Last year I rated which unfinished game was the worst in my opinion, but this year I wanted to take a more positive approach and share which of my abandoned games still has a positive place in my memory.
I picked up Fitness Boxing as the result of a couple of different things – at the time I was hearing a lot of good things about the game and since it was early winter, I was already looking for a good indoor alternative to my typical morning walks. The Fitness Boxing demo allowed me to put the game to the test and it seemed to work out okay for me. I got sweaty, my muscles felt sore – it seemed like I was really getting a workout, so I decided to go all-in and purchase the game.
I spent maybe a month on Fitness Boxing before abandoning it. The game has some frustrating mechanical issues when it comes to the Joy-Cons sensing your inputs correctly – they often missed punches I threw or sensed a punch when I was doing a different type of movement. As the game goes on and the movements become more complex, it’s even harder for the Joy-Cons to accurately sense what you are doing, and the frustration of me getting penalized for the game’s technological limitations led me to put the game down.
BABA IS YOU
In this indie puzzle game, you play as Baba (shocking) – a small white creature with the ability to walk around and push things. The puzzles in Baba is You are unique in that the very rules are elements which you can move around and change. The rules appear on the field as tiles that say things like “rock is push” or “key is open,” and you can manipulate these tiles to get objects to behave in unusual ways. Walk through walls by making them no longer “stop,” turn Baba’s body into the goal by making Baba both “you” and “win” – it’s an interesting concept that plays out in lots of fun ways.
Unfortunately, Baba is You has a pretty heavy difficulty spike once you really get going. In the first area of the game I was solving puzzles relatively quickly or could come back to them after a short break and figure them out. In the second area I had a more difficult time but found some fun in learning to outwit the game’s logic. By the third area, it would take me anyway from 30-60 minutes to solve a single puzzle and the frustration of constant failure often drove me to stop playing after only one or two, slowing my progress significantly. Some of the solutions felt really obscure, or took so many complicated steps to arrange that actually implementing the solution was infinitely more frustrating than figuring it out.
STARLINK: BATTLE FOR ATLAS
Starlink tells the story of a group of pilots and scientists whose mentor is captured by an alien empire. With the power of Starlink technology, this team can alter the composition of their spacecraft on the fly in order to adapt to many situations – the crew must use this power to their advantage in their mission to reclaim their mentor. In the Switch version, the Starlink cast is joined by Star Fox and his crew of mercenaries, who are hunting down Star Wolf in this region of the galaxy.
Starlink’s core premise of modding your ship on the fly is one that does feel interesting in play. During the game you fly to a planet, explore its surface while completing missions, and then gain the ability to play to other planets across the vast regions of space. Starlink is an Ubisoft title and it feels stagnant in the sense that it copies many familiar mechanisms. The game is essentially one of filling out the minimap – scouring the planet for small collectibles and resources while doing simple missions is the meat of the game, and the story and characters aren’t particularly compelling. You are further limited by how much of the game’s content you actually own; even after getting the deluxe edition while it was on sale, because I bought it before the latest wave of DLC I have multiple weapons and characters I am missing. You very much get what you pay for with Starlink.
And the winner is……….
BABA IS YOU!
All three of these games share a feature in common in addition to the fact that I didn’t finish them – I played them all during a time when my mental health was at its worst. The challenging puzzles in Baba is You led me to feel stupid and unmotivated during a time when I was already struggling with self loathing and a lack of desire to engage my hobbies. But Baba is You doesn’t set out to make you feel that way. It is a game which intends to inspire creativity and experimentation, and the satisfaction of solving one of its puzzles really hits the spot when you’re able to do it. I played this game at a bad time, but it really is a good game that brings some interesting new ideas to the puzzle game space. I’d still recommend it to other people even if it is a game that I likely will not finish myself.
CATEGORY: GAME OF THE YEAR
Here it is, the big one. Which of the fifteen video games that I played this year is the one which will take the crown for being my favorite? I decided that while the rest of this post has been dedicated to games that I played this year regardless of their release date, for this category I wanted to focus on actual 2019 games. Naturally these three games are titles I’ve already discussed today, so I’ll give a short blurb for why each one is being considered and then focus on why the winner took the cake!
FIRE EMBLEM: THREE HOUSES
This may not have won best strategy game, but Three Houses brings more to the table than just its tactical battles. The game is full of lovable characters and it is a joy to discover their histories and see their relationships grow and expand. Each of the game’s three main paths (seriously, don’t play Silver Snow) add some interesting perspective to the world and help you to see the overall story from a different angle. And while the game is no Into the Breach, that certainly doesn’t make it bad. Fire Emblem has great tactical battles where the various abilities at your disposal are put to the test, challenging you to think about what units will be most effective at any given time. When you engage all of the mechanisms of the game – the teaching and instruction, monastery exploration, support conversations, and difficult battles – you can see how all the pieces work together to create a really solid experience.
DRAGON QUEST XI S
Dragon Quest as a series isn’t the most innovative JRPG, but it’s the granddaddy of all those other games and it still is (in my opinion) the best version of that genre. While it takes until deep into the post game for DQ11 to really show off what the mechanisms are capable of and the game doesn’t do much to push the genre forward, it does what has been done before at a high level that makes the game quite satisfying for fans of the genre.
Breath of the Wild redefined what the Zelda series could be, but for me the kind of Zelda games that sit in my top spots are those that are closer to the formula I have known and loved as a child. Link’s Awakening takes that classic formula and does it at peak level. The dungeons are interesting and challenging with fun tools that make navigating the overworld a lot more exciting when you step outside. The story is simple and conveyed through few words, but thinking about its deeper implications leaves you pondering the game long after the credits have rolled.
And the winner is…….
FIRE EMBLEM: THREE HOUSES!
It feels unusual to choose this game as game of the year when I didn’t consider it to be the best strategy game, but I think there is something to be said for Fire Emblem as a package that is larger than simply the strategy genre. Into the Breach is more mechanically tight and uses those mechanics to tell an emergent story, but Fire Emblem found a way to do character growth in a new way that makes a lot of sense for the series. While both Dragon Quest XI and Link’s Awakening deliver perhaps the best version of their classic formulas, Three Houses dared to experiment with the Fire Emblem formula while still maintaining some of the core elements. Not every aspect of that experiment worked, but the ones that did work created new gameplay elements that I really want to make an appearance in future titles. While I wish the story had varied more from house to house, I still enjoyed each unique perspective and to a degree my negative experiences with the game resulted from my own choice to play so much of it back-to-back instead of giving it time to settle. At the end of the day, I think Three Houses did the most to push its series forward and it is the game that I gave the most time and energy over the course of this year. For that, I’m naming it the Adventure Rules game of the year for 2019.
Thanks everyone for reading, and I would love to hear your thoughts on my choices for each category as well as for game of the year. I’m excited to jump into 2020 to talk about lots of fun new games, and I hope you’ll be along for the ride as Adventure Rules celebrates five years of game blogging!