Most of time, I only buy games I’m pretty sure I’m going to like. Games aren’t cheap things after, neither in terms of money nor in time. If I’m going to invest in a game, I want to know that I’ll enjoy my time with it. That said, I wound up taking more than a few steps outside that comfort zone this year, and I found myself pleasantly surprised more often than not. Sometimes it’s actually worth taking a risk, because there’s a chance you’ll discover something new about your gaming tastes. As for me, the following are the games that surprised me for the better this year.
I bought Vampyr because I’m a fan of Dontnod Entertainment. They have a knack for making games that are a little out of the ordinary, even if they never quite make it to top-shelf status. Vampyr promised a new kind of vampire game with set in a slightly-altered version of post-WWI London. And it delivered! Vampyr follows the undeath of Dr. Jonathan Reid, a renowned surgeon and blood specialist. He’s trying to figure out how to stop the spread of an unnatural disease burning its way through London, while trying to learn about himself and this new underworld he was unwillingly brought into. The game can be janky at times and a little confusing at others, but London is fun to explore and its unique difficulty system (feeding makes the game easier; but there are consequences), makes Vampyr feel like more than it should be, and very worth trying out.
Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight/ Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight
I bought Persona 5 last year because of all the positive hype the game had received after launch, and I wound up loving it too. Even so, I was a bit dubious about these rhythm game tie-ins. I don’t traditionally like rhythm games like DDR or Guitar Hero. I find them a bit too difficult to deal with thanks to their unusual controls. That said, I love these Persona rhythm games. They use the normal controller (thank goodness!), feature the great music I love from the games, and even provided the chance for more insight into the characters I’d grown to love over the course of the actual games. They aren’t quite worth $60 to me, but I’m glad I tried them nonetheless.
Tales of Berseria
I’d attempted to get into the tales series a couple of times before this one, but they never really managed to grab my attention for one reason or another. Still, I gave this one a try after a ton of poking from one of my friends…and I wound up absolutely loving it. Tales of Berseria doesn’t drag its feet like so many JRPGs are prone to do, and it’s combat has enough variation to it to keep things interesting. However, it was the story and characters that kept me invested. Somewhere along the line I actually started to caring about what happened to them and wanting to see them get the happy ending I thought they deserved. There were many, many feels as I made my way through this game, and even plenty right at the end. This one was a great surprise and definitely worth it for those who like JRPGs.
Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings
This one was very out of the ordinary for me, and I actually wouldn’t have known it existed if I hadn’t been tasked with reviewing it. Atelier Lydie & Suelle is the latest entry in what turns out to be the extremely long-running Atelier series (it’s over 20 years old now!). In it players basically take on the role of the item seller the normal RPG hero meets during their travels. It turns out creating and selling items isn’t as easy as it looks and these characters have their own adventures and problems to deal with. This game in particular was a breath of fresh air to me, because it feels like a JRPG without the usual JRPG stakes. There’s no grimdark world on the edge of destruction or world-ending consequences for failure here. Nope. Instead, everything is going smoothly. Most people are living happy, comfortable lives, our protagonists are doing nothing more or less than pursuing their dream of being world-renowned alchemists. That’s it. The world and characters are charming, the combat is decent, and the recipes are fun to figure out. It was a pleasant surprise for me, and I suspect it’ll be the same for many JRPG fans out there.
What are some games that surprised you this year? Got any recommendations?