The Games of Not-2018

2018 felt a little different to me in terms of the way I used my free time on videogames. For whatever reason – be it a less intense schedule of new releases that interested me, weariness of the same old drop-everything-to-play-the-new-thing habits, finally acquiring a decent gaming PC, or a combination of all three – I was somehow more OK with the idea of putting time into older games this year. So I feel like it wouldn’t be a full representation of my 2018 in videogames if I didn’t jot down some quick thoughts on them. I also figured I’d include remasters or re-releases on this page too, just to take some heat off the main list.

I’ve listed the games roughly in the order I played them this year. I’ve also listed either the most prominent initial release version of each game or, where relevant, the version I owned or played back in the day instead. Then on the line underneath I’ve noted the version I played in 2018. Stop looking at me like that, I have to catalogue these things properly.

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Pokemon Crystal Version

GBC Release: 2001
3DS Virtual Console Release: 2018
How much I played: Start to finish including Kanto, 25+ hrs

I was super-vulnerable to this release when it hit the 3DS eShop in late Jan. There wasn’t much else to play and I was about to head off on a coastal family holiday. The rest I wrote down in its own separate post which you can read here.

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Final Fantasy XIII

PS3 Release: 2010
Steam Release: 2014
How much I played: The first ten chapters and some messing around in Chapter 11 makes 30+ hrs

Not gonna even try to hide it – seeing this game run in forced 4K on some YouTube video last year was a huge percentage of the reason the dominoes fell and I finally invested in a gaming laptop. After a discussion with a friend about whether FF XIII really did look better than XV in parts or whether that was just our memory of it, I had to jump back in after a decade and it turns out that, despite a truly, ridiculously awful port job, the game’s astonishing art direction sings in higher resolutions. I did play more than half of the game again, hoping to dive into a proper thousands-of-words retrospective, but the gaming calendar moves fast. Near the end of the year Microsoft gave the XIII trilogy a huge Xbox One X-supported backwards compatibility push, so who knows, maybe Square has more plans for a re-release or something. Either way, I will write that post one day. I will.

 


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Bayonetta

360 Release: 2010
Switch Release: 2018
How much I played: Like 7 hrs

As the first major physical full-priced Nintendo Switch release of the year, I had to pick up the Bayonetta 1 + 2 package. I was also scared a couple of my friends would disown me if I didn’t. I got past the point I did in the original Xbox 360 release of the first game (which wasn’t very far at all), then put it down as more games came out.

Then, at the very beginning of November, right after the hype for Super Smash Bros Ultimate had reminded me that Bayonetta existed, none other than Lady Gaga dropped that tweet and I picked the game up again. Again, not for long (you really have to be in the zone and focusing to play these kinds of games without constant death), and I still haven’t touched Bayonetta 2, but I can only hope when we get a Bayonetta 3 release date I will have a nice new concrete deadline to aim for.

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The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass

DS Release: 2007
Wii U Virtual Console Release: 2015
How much I played: Start to finish, all heart containers + some other completionist stuff, so probably 20-25 hrs

Probably the one that means the most to me on this page, as weird as that may sound. After a frustrating time with Phantom Hourglass at the end of 2007 – just as I graduated high school and had much more interesting things going on in life it must be said – I (figuratively) threw the DS aside in frustration, came to peace with the fact that it may be the Zelda game I never finish (That Temple of the Ocean King is just so obnoxious) and moved on. I did buy the Wii U virtual console re-release later but only because it was part of a package deal – I didn’t actually play it.

Until over a decade later, when a particularly ocean-loving work colleague happened to be playing it around the same time I was gifted a beaten-up DS Lite. So I picked the game up again. We shared our various frustrations and even took advantage of some of the treasure-sharing features in the game to make some real progress. I came up against some Ocean King-flavoured brick walls once again but after realising that I still owned the official strategy guide for the game – and then finding it on a dusty bookshelf – there were just enough favourable elements going my way to motivate me to get through it. That day I finished Phantom Hourglass felt like there was a giant weight coming off my shoulders that I had forgotten was there.

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Conker: Live & Reloaded

Xbox Release: 2005
Xbox One X Back-Compat Release: 2018
How much I played: Absolutely all of it, in one day, 10+ hrs of gameplay

Yeah, that happened. Read alllll about it here.

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The Legend of Zelda: Triforce Heroes

3DS Release: 2015
How much I played: It’s hard to gauge concrete progress but 3DS log says six and a half hours

In my quest to finish every Zelda game before I die, this one was always going to be tricky – especially once my siblings dropped off out of frustration so quickly when the game first came out. You can only play it either single-player (which is apparently a chore) or with the intended three. Luckily I was able to lock in two mates when we went to see the Zelda Symphony late last year and, with much logistical shuffling, we managed to get two sessions in during 2018. I’ve now seen more of the game than I had before and while it will still be a struggle to finish – and my luck with rare material drops is almost unbelievably bad – it has been a riot so far.

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Crawl

Steam Early Access Release: 2014
Switch Release: 2017
How much I played: A couple of hours over a long four-player session.

The Aussie-developed Crawl is – say it with me now – perfect for Switch. A constantly-shuffling equation of 3v1 adversarial multiplayer with roguelike room and drop mechanics, each half-hour-ish-long playthrough feels like an entire dungeon-crawling RPG in microcosm. The best moments come when a freshly-revived player dies again in the same room thanks to the perfect combination of trolling slime drops, possessed turrets and summoned beast chaos. If that sentence confuses you deeply, trust me, grab three friends and a copy of Crawl.

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Final Fantasy XV

PS4 Release: 2016
Steam Release: 2018
How much I played: Like two hours across a few sessions I think?

The first of quite a few games I picked up on PC almost solely to test hardware, I bought the Windows Edition of FF XV because I pretty much only had older games in my library and it was half price at one point. Having put over 50 hours into the PS4 version I figured it would be a great way to tell immediately what advantages my PC had. After a bit of research I discovered I could output my laptop and force a custom ultrawide resolution (21:9) onto my 4K TV. My wallet would eventually hate me for that, because months later I bought an ultrawide monitor. That’s how good XV looks in that aspect ratio. Oh, and I did get a chance to try out a bunch of the game’s post-launch improvements as well as play a bit of Episode Ignis, so that was a cool bonus.

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Rise of the Tomb Raider

Xbox One Release: 2015
Xbox One X Patch: 2017
How much I played: I added maybe 15 hrs to my existing save file from three years ago

This one has been a journey. After adoring the first Tomb Raider reboot from 2013 – finishing it once on 360 and once on PS4 – it took me a while to warm to the unforgiving Siberian wastelands of its 2015 sequel. I abandoned the game after a week or so back when it launched amid the packed November rush of that year, then thought long and hard about starting a new file on PS4 when the game re-launched as one of the flagship titles of the PS4 Pro in late 2016 (I had FF XV for that vanity purpose though). I then had the chance to go back to my original save with an even more impressive graphical upgrade when the Xbox One X came out a year later. I still didn’t.

Then Shadow of the Tomb Raider was officially announced, the night I saw the Tomb Raider movie no less, and that was that. I re-bought Rise and spent a few weeks barrelling through it, discovering extra mechanical depth and environmental variety the more I played. I ended up really liking it as a videogame, even though its story is the lightest in the trilogy, and it lifted my hype for the trilogy’s conclusion to new heights. But I’ll talk about that game soon enough…

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Beyond Good & Evil

PS2 Release: 2003
Steam Release: 2008
How much I played: I think I’m at 5ish hrs but a good hour was troubleshooting

I have always wanted to play this game, so even though I’m pretty sure I own it on Xbox 360 and PS3 digitally, I bought it on Steam because it was a solid two bucks and I wanted to run it at 4K. But even more than FF XIII, this game really taught me the pain of PC gaming – and the unique satisfaction of making that pain go away. Not only did this game tell me it wouldn’t support a controller despite debuting on a console, the cutscenes ran at about two-and-a-half times the speed they were supposed to and I spent aaaaages trying to get a photo of a rare creature that just would not register in my database. It turns out that, in order, the solutions were: load up a community-made manual controller mapping from Steam, cap the game’s framerate at 60 frames per second – again, manually, and run the resolution at a maximum of 1080p (manually). One day I hope to have time to go back to this and remember it as a game, not a technical battleground, because it’s definitely cool and there’s a sequel soon.

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Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana

PS4 Release: 2017
Switch Release: 2018
How much I played: In-game clock counted half a dozen-ish hours before Octopath Traveller came out a week later and swallowed my consciousness

A total surprise I was not expecting to get sucked into, Ys VIII came out the same week as Shining Resonance Refrain as a one-two punch that felt like a turning point for the Switch as the new default home for lower-budget JRPGs worth playing. It took that unofficial mantle from the ill-fated PS Vita, which was where Ys VIII initially landed last year. Though I don’t normally like real-time JRPG battle systems, often finding them shallow, the tropical locale and narrative of fostering a new community resonated with me, as did the refreshingly anti-Xenoblade Chronicles 2 graphical strategy of prioritising a crisp resolution over unnecessary detail. But yeah, after Octopath came out it had no chance.

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The World Ends With You

DS Release: 2007
Switch Release: 2018
How much I played: Shamefully, like three hours

I bought this game years ago on DS thanks to a friend’s recommendation – and direct link to eBay – alongside Chrono Trigger. I eventually played and finished the latter, while the former stayed in its shrink wrap until the Switch version was announced and I got rid of the original. I had tried the game on a friends’ DS before though, and indeed playing the Switch version is a huge and obvious visual upgrade, to say nothing of the incredible remixed music in this version. The controls are gimmicky but functional, the game features a mechanic where you can get passive EXP from time away, really The World Ends With You ticks an alarming amount of my personal favourite videogame boxes. Unfortunately, it came out right in the middle of the most intense period of new releases that were relevant to me all year, and one of those new releases completely stole a week of my life without asking my permission first. More on that one later.

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Vanquish

360 Release: 2010
Steam Release: 2017
How much I played: Maybe an hour of trying to get the UI scaling properly to an ultrawide resolution

I remember wanting to play this game when it first came out but my brother commandeering it instead. One round from Platinum Games’ opening salvo of critical darlings at the turn of the decade, Vanquish released on Steam last year with 4K support so of course, I tried to get it working in ultrawide. That required a community mod if I didn’t want the user interface all stretched. I could not get this mod to work. Eventually I learned a very important lesson: When you download a mod, remember to unzip the file.

I can see this PC stuff getting repetitive so see also: Just Cause 2, Remember Me, Trails of Cold Steel 2. I bought or re-downloaded all of them pretty much just to test how they played in 4k and/or ultrawide. None of them gave me any real trouble.

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Dark Souls

360 Release: 2011
Switch Release: 2018
How much I played: 15+ hrs, mostly in offline mode but with some online

This is, in a few ways, “the big one”. Nothing else on this list carried a more daunting reputation going in and thanks to one mate of mine, nothing was more talked about before its re-release. It turns out that Dark Souls is kind of like a game in the Monster Hunter series – all you need is a sensei of sorts to guide you through it and answer questions, then it’s all about deciding when to grind and when to take the risk of backing yourself against that terrifying enemy you’ve been sizing up – but there is always that chance you’ll get cocky and suffer. A lot. I don’t want to turn into one of those people I found so annoying before I played Dark Souls, but this game is pretty good. Especially in handheld mode.

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Warframe

PS4 Release: 2013
Switch Release: 2018
How much I played: A couple of hours

It released too late for me to put any real time into it, but had it launched around, say, the middle of the year, I would have been in real danger of getting addicted to this one. The rapidly-growing reputation of Western porting specialist studio Panic Button was done no harm whatsoever by Warframe on Switch. It just looks so good, even despite its sub-native resolution. The game is also packed with things to do, feels incredible to control, and supports co-op. If there’s a window early next year I might give this one another push.

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