2016 has been the year of dreams fulfilled, in many ways.
Two games which have been in development for the best part of a decade came out within weeks of each other – neither of which have any right being any good after such troubled times in development, and yet both are somehow unscathed. Sure, there are signs here and there that they are, indeed, titles from a bygone era, but they remain two of my favourite releases of this year. If you don’t know which games I’m talking about, you can find out below.
It was a tough call this year with some truly excellent releases (and a significant return to form for Square Enix). Great titles such as Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Oxenfree, Rise of the Tomb Raider (on PS4), and Ratchet & Clank have narrowly missed out on my top 5, but at least they all get honourable mentions nonetheless. Now, though, on to business.
5. I Am Setsuna
Opening a studio called Tokyo RPG Factory makes you think of a conveyor belt of dull, thoughtless rubbish releasing with alarming regularity – but based on its first offering, this could hardly be further from the truth. I Am Setsuna is a thoughtfully crafted old-school RPG the likes of which those growing up in the 90s are sure to love. It has a great aesthetic, engaging combat system, and a deep storyline, which, while not being the most original, is thought provoking and memorable. It also has an exquisite soundtrack played entirely on piano, which is typically emotion-inducing and aids the narrative perfectly.
This one snuck up on me, and I hadn’t even heard of it until a few days before launch. Yes, it’s a walking simulator, but it’s also far more than that. It’s an exploration of the human condition: of loneliness and companionship; of our relationship with nature and our vulnerability within the world we inhabit. It’s also a beautiful game with a truly heartbreaking narrative and superb writing. It’s easily one of my most memorable gaming experiences – up there, in fact, with the excellent Journey. In terms of narrative-driven games, for me, they don’t come much better than this.
3. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
When series creator Amy Hennig left the project mid-development, alarm bells were ringing. Couple this with the more serious tone that the game was exuding, and before launch, I had some serious doubts. But what was eventually released has easily become my favourite game in the series. It feels like a significant and natural progression with less action and more exploration; a little bit more story and a little bit less shooting. Add in some of the best storytelling in the series yet – and an incredibly satisfying conclusion – and I’m left feeling like a fool for ever having worried.
2. Final Fantasy XV
A game that has no right being any good after its tumultuous development, but it’s easily one of 2016’s best gaming experiences. It’s unlike anything else; partly lost between being a linear story-driven game and a grand open-world epic, but somehow it manages to come together as an excellent entry in the mainline series. It does a surprisingly good job of maintaining the feel of a Final Fantasy game while simultaneously being something entirely new for the series. But, perhaps most importantly, it also feels unique among the often homogenous landscape of other modern open-world games, which shouldn’t be understated.
1. The Last Guardian
It’s been an enigma for almost ten years, and the fact that we’re now able to play it is surreal. Some argue that it’s a game stuck in a prior era, and while that may be true in some of the presentation, it doesn’t hold it back from being one of the most visually arresting games on PS4 – aided by stunning art direction. It’s like being in a dream, and the feeling of being a child on an incredible adventure with a mythological creature never ceases to amaze. A true masterpiece that might be flawed in presentation, but which is absolutely flawless at heart.