The MoeGamer Awards are a series of “alternative” awards I’ve devised in collaboration with the community to celebrate the sorts of things that never get celebrated in end-of-year roundups! Find out more here — and feel free to leave a suggestion on that post if you have any good ideas!
It is, as we’ve already said, the end of a decade. And, as you know, this makes it an ideal time to look back over the last ten years and figure out what experiences were the “best”.
Once again, like the awards for the last decade of visual novels, I’m not interested in the games that were the most critically acclaimed, the ones that sold the most or indeed the ones that are most commonly agreed to be “games of the year” for their respective year of release.
Instead, I’m going to pick out one game for each year of (English language) release that I found personally significant for one reason or another. I’d love to hear your own feelings on this, too, so feel free to share in the comments!
And the winners are…
Bayonetta was a bit of a watershed moment for me. Up until this point, I’d never really got on with what I thought of as very technical action games. I’d given Devil May Cry a go back when it originally released on PlayStation 2 and had found it so unreasonably difficult that I gave up on it very early.
I heard enough good things about Bayonetta that I thought it was high time I gave the genre another go, though. And I’m very glad I did, because Bayonetta helped me to understand the appeal of this type of game, with its satisfying, agile, smoothly flowing combat and its precise controls. There was not a single moment in Bayonetta where I felt like I was just hammering buttons in the hope something cool happening; I always, always felt in complete control of what was going on. And that was a revelation.
Plus it has one of the most amazing, bizarre, overdramatic and cheesy soundtracks I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening do. And I love weird soundtracks.
2011: Hyperdimension Neptunia
Alongside 2012’s Katawa Shoujo, the first Hyperdimension Neptunia is a defining influence on both my gaming tastes and the person I am today. I came to this game almost entirely by chance; I happened to see a post by Cilla of Cilla vs. Games (sometimes seen around The Well-Red Mage) on Google+ one day — yes, once upon a time people actually used it — where she had posted some recent gaming pickups. One of them was a colourful-looking game with some appealing-looking female characters, so I asked what it was. She told me. I bought it. I loved it.
The first Hyperdimension Neptunia is a tough sell to a lot of people, because it does a lot of very strange things… but I absolutely love it for that. Whether it’s the shockingly in-depth Xenogears-style combo-based combat system (where designing your own custom combos that flow well is practically a puzzle game in itself) or the bizarre conditional-and-chance-based item usage system for healing, I adored the fact that Hyperdimension Neptunia absolutely refused to play by the rules.
And it introduced me to a cast of characters who have subsequently become very special to me, too. I’ll never get enough Neptunia, and thankfully Compile Heart and Idea Factory have continued to feed my love for the series to an ample degree over the years!
2012: Ys Origin
I was a latecomer to the Ys series, but when I did eventually get around to exploring it in depth in 2016, Ys Origin became a firm favourite. Unfolding as a prequel to the series as a whole, the satisfying action RPG combat, smooth movement and varied level design made it a game I continually enjoy returning to… and with three playable characters who handle very differently from one another as well as having their own stories to enjoy, there’s a lot of game to engage with here.
I also found it fascinating from a design perspective. Technically Ys Origin takes place entirely within a single dungeon, but said dungeon is so varied and interesting that you never feel like this is a limitation on the scope of the game. Instead, the whole experience — the gameplay and the narrative — is designed with this aspect of the design very much in mind, leaving the whole game feeling very coherent, and achieving exactly what it sets out to do.
Plus it has an absolutely killer soundtrack, and you hopefully know by now how much I like good music in my games. The run-up to the finale, where the game’s main theme is remixed into a dramatic piece that makes you want to run into the next room screaming in Japanese with your weapon brandished is a particular highlight.
2013: Time and Eternity
Time and Eternity was a thoroughly interesting game. It landed in my lap while I was at USgamer, and I knew absolutely nothing about it, but it sounded immensely intriguing. An RPG designed around the concept of it being animated in a “traditional” manner, like an actual anime? As someone who had always hungered for a true “interactive cartoon” since the early days of gaming, I was thoroughly on board.
And I found a surprising, compelling and enjoyable experience, too. Excellent music — courtesy of legendary composer Yuzo Koshiro, fact fans — coupled with lovely animation and an unusual Punch Out-style pattern-based combat system made for a highly memorable game that I enjoyed a great deal.
The vast majority of the rest of the professional press hated it, of course because of some vaguely waffly reasons about fanservice. (Time and Eternity is particularly tame in that regard, I should add, so these complaints were largely nonsense.) It was around this point that I really established my reputation as someone who would give a fair chance to things — particularly games of Japanese origin — that other reviewers would write off with the minimum of effort. And I wouldn’t change that for anything at this point.
Check out my USgamer review of Time and Eternity! (archived because adblocker-blockers suck ass)
This game is no longer available digitally, and physical copies are out of print. You can still track the odd one down in the wild, though; good luck!
2014: The Witch and the Hundred Knight
This was another game where my opinion deviated significantly from the critical consensus… and in this specific case, I’m confident that I was emphatically in the right, and a lot of other people simply didn’t “get” what this game was going for. That may sound arrogant, but the more I talk to people who appreciate this game and compare their thoughts to the half-assed reviews from other members of the press at the time, the more confident I feel in that regard.
The Witch and the Hundred Knight is an honest to goodness example of a Classical tragedy in video game form. This is not something we generally see a lot of in gaming, especially in the mainstream sector, so I could perhaps forgive people for not getting their head around this fact… were it not for the seemingly wilful misunderstandings some critics expressed.
“This game is bad because the main character is a horrible person” was a common sentiment, with everyone expressing that opinion completely failing to realise that having a deeply — tragically, some might say — flawed character as the centrepiece of the narrative is key to Classical tragedy. Titular witch Metallia is a horrible person, but she has an incredible character arc — particularly if you put in the additional effort required to see the “bad” ending — which, enjoyably confusingly, is actually the best, most substantial one.
2015: Dungeon Travelers 2
This is one of those games that people primarily became aware of because of negative press attention. In this case, Polygon, that notorious wet blanket of a publication, berated the announcement of the game by referring to it as a “creepy, porn-lite dungeon crawler” — which, naturally, made a whole lot of people (including me) get very interested in it. After all, if someone from Polygon hated it, it must be good, right?
As it turned out, Dungeon Travelers 2 was very, very good indeed. To date, it is one of my favourite games of all time. It wasn’t the dungeon crawler that caused me to “get” dungeon crawlers for the first time — that honour goes to Demon Gaze — but it’s definitely the one that made me appreciate their sprawling size, their mechanical complexity, their balance between exploration and combat, and the joy of spending hundreds of hours putting together the perfect party. Plus, in the case of Dungeon Travelers 2 specifically, all this mechanical goodness is complemented beautifully by a very well-realised mechanical world and some absolutely wonderful characters.
Dungeon Travelers 2 is also pretty much the reason the Cover Game feature exists here on MoeGamer. It wasn’t the first Cover Game I published — largely because getting through it took a very long time indeed, so I published some features on other games in the meantime — but my petty and spiteful desire to completely and utterly crush Polygon’s idiotic original news story on the game spurred me on to explore it in more detail than any other game I had ever written about at this point in my writing career.
2016: Nights of Azure
In the early years of the decade, I was introduced to Gust by a friend of mine. Specifically, I was introduced to the Ar Tonelico series, which is pretty representative of what Gust has to offer: deep lore, strong characters, interesting subject matter and amazing music. From thereon, I followed whatever this company did with great interest, be it the ever-expanding Atelier series, or intriguing one-off projects.
Nights of Azure, an example of the latter, caught my attention immediately because it seemed like a noticeable shift from the soft edges and pastel colours of the Atelier series in particular, instead presenting a rather dark, Gothic aesthetic for its backdrops, contrasting strongly with its vividly coloured characters. On top of that, it was a hack-and-slash action RPG rather than a turn-based affair, and it appeared to be about a pair of absolutely beautiful young women who were not just “nudge nudge wink wink, they might be gay, teehee”, but actually gay. All this added up to something I wanted to play very much.
I was not wrong to feel this way. Nights of Azure was an absolute pleasure to play, combining a distinctly operatic storyline with satisfying hack and slash combat, a strong focus on dodging telegraphed attacks, monster collecting, unusual progression and a wonderfully distinctive atmosphere. And, in true Gust tradition, the soundtrack was fantastic; Nights of Azure’s score is simultaneously the best Castlevania, Persona and Romantic-era opera soundtracks you will ever pleasure your lugholes with.
2017: Gravity Rush 2
I didn’t like Gravity Rush much when I first played it on Vita, but with the advent of the sequel I decided to give it another shot via its PS4 remaster. In doing so, I discovered that I had emphatically been Playing It Wrong, and consequently ended up enjoying it a whole lot more. And I appreciated the series as a whole even more when I went straight from the first game and immediately into the sequel — a direct follow-up that addresses all the loose ends the original left hanging.
Gravity Rush is a beautiful game in a highly imaginative, incredibly well-realised world — it even has its own unique spoken language — and its core mechanic of manipulating gravity to move around in various ways never gets any less joyful. It provides a unique take on the “superhero” genre — particularly with its wonderful heroine Kat, who perpetually feels just slightly out of her depth, despite her superhuman capabilities — and successfully avoids the sort of boring, bloated busywork that modern big-budget open-world games are inclined to suffer.
Gravity Rush 2 wanted you to have fun in its world. And to that end, it provided plenty of possibilities in both structured and unstructured formats. Whether you were using Kat’s abilities to race through a series of checkpoints or taking selfies in improbable locations, there was always something enjoyable to do even when you weren’t following the main narrative. It’s a shame that the asynchronous online “Treasure Hunt” mode is no longer available, since that was a ton of fun that made great use of the game’s features!
It’s an even bigger shame that we’re unlikely to ever see another sequel, since Sony put the game out to die and hardly anyone bought it as a result. But there’s still time to correct that!
I’d been aware of Alicesoft’s work for a while, but didn’t play any for myself until MangaGamer finally localised Rance 5D: The Lonely Girl and Rance VI: Collapse of Zeth. Despite my initial misgivings about the notoriously extreme content in these games, I ended up enjoying them a great deal, and was hungry for more. In the absence of further Rance games at the time — we’ve since been treated to a localisation of the seventh game Sengoku Rance — I was very keen to investigate Evenicle, for a number of reasons.
Evenicle has many of Rance’s core appeal elements, including a strong sense of pitch-black humour, an unwillingness to compromise on the depiction of potentially upsetting content, an immensely well-crafted, lore-rich world and some fantastic characters, and gives us an all-new setting (albeit one that some theorycrafters believe may be connected to the Rance series somehow) with a detailed, thought-provoking and dramatic story, a sensitive exploration of the concept of polyamory and a protagonist who isn’t anywhere near as much of a shit as Rance is.
It also plays great, with a snappy but strategic turn-based battle system, customisable characters and a huge world full of secrets to explore. Oh, and it features gorgeous artwork by Nan Yaegashi, an artist best known for his iconic character designs on the Senran Kagura series. All-round, it’s one of Alicesoft’s finest works, and a real highlight of 2018.
2019: Death end re;Quest
I’ve seen quite a few people say that 2019 was a “weak” year for games, and to those people I simply have to say “where were you looking?” There have been some absolutely fantastic games this year across a wide variety of different genres, and I’ve never once been short of things to write about.
One of my favourites was undoubtedly Compile Heart’s Death end re;Quest, part of the developer’s experimental Galapagos RPG project. The game blends an interesting take on isekai fiction with elements of urban legends and Japanese-style horror, and is especially intriguing from a mechanical perspective. Featuring turn-based combat that features a strong emphasis on elemental affinities and a core “knockback” system, battles are consistently dynamic and enjoyable, and the addition of the peculiar “Install Genre” mechanic provides a highly original take on powerful special moves.
Instead of simply triggering an over-the-top animation, Install Genre temporarily switches the battle gameplay from turn-based RPG into a side-on fighting game, a third-person shooter, a top-down puzzle game, a billiards simulator or a Mario-style platformer, and while said “genre” remains active, you can unleash vast amounts of damage — assuming you’re able to take full advantage of the mechanics in question. This provides a great element of risk versus reward in combat, as well as shaking the action up beyond simply triggering the same skills over and over in succession.
It’s a game that sadly passed a lot of people by unnoticed — though it did at least sell well enough in its native Japan to spawn a sequel, so that’s something. If you missed out on it when it first showed up, don’t sleep on it; it’s one of the most potent examples of exactly how far Compile Heart has come over the course of the last decade, and a fine way to round off this list of games!
The MoeGamer Compendium, Volume 1 is now available! Grab a copy today for a beautiful physical edition of the Cover Game features originally published in 2016.
Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ve been writing about games in one form or another since the days of the old Atari computers, with work published in Page 6/New Atari User, PC Zone, the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, GamePro, IGN, USgamer, Glixel and more over the years, and I love what I do.
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