DualShockers’ Favorite Games of 2019 — Kris' Top 10
2019 was unquestionably a great year for video games, thanks to the likes of Devil May Cry 5, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and so many more.
As 2019 comes to a close, DualShockers and our staff are reflecting on this year’s batch of games and what were their personal highlights within the last year. Unlike the official Game of the Year 2019 awards for DualShockers, there are little-to-no-rules on our individual Top 10 posts. For instance, any game — not just 2019 releases — can be considered.
2019 in video games has been…interesting.
While the western triple-A industry has been in a contest to see who can devour itself the fastest, the Japanese triple-A giants in 2019 have built on last year’s successes and risen to even further heights. The gaming populace is bitter and cynical, fighting monetisation and poor industry practices at every turn, yet throughout all this the actual video game releases have been exceptional and beloved. It’s practically given me whiplash from all of the back and forth.
In keeping with this, I had to cut more titles from my 2019 shortlist than were even in contention for previous years. Numerous games that I know for a fact would be strong contenders weren’t in discussion because I just didn’t get to playing them enough yet: Resident Evil 2, Sekiro, Control, Trails of Cold Steel 3, Outer Wilds…the list goes on.
But that’s enough preamble. Let’s get into the list — and incidentally, my first proper article on behalf of DualShockers. You’ll see more of my work in the coming year, so here’s a sneak peek of what I might write about.
10. Remnant: From the Ashes
This was possibly the biggest surprise of 2019. Slotting in right at a time of big releases that were somewhat underwhelming, Remnant had almost no marketing or fanfare; it just appeared one day and turned out to be excellent. It’s a really solid third-person shooter that built on the Soulslike formula, but nonetheless empowered the player and gave you everything you needed to succeed.
You’re given plenty of guns and abilities to adjust to your liking, as well as customization in your builds with what perks you want to level. Those levels carry over into new playthroughs for replayability, whether solo or co-op, and the variety in side areas that might appear kept me keen to try it again. It’s worth mentioning how good the UI and sound design is, further giving the player crucial information to keep them from dying to bullshit off their screen. It’s even been updated recently with free content, so I shall likely drop back in again sometime soon. Check out Remnant if you haven’t heard of it; it deserves the attention.
As Nintendo and Intelligent Systems have not deigned to grace us with a new Advance Wars in over a decade, Chucklefish decided to relieve them of that duty in 2019 with Wargroove…assuming you don’t mind the fantasy aesthetic. Wargroove is a content-rich turn-based strategy game, with little to no RNG. You control a selection of generic unit types, such as Swordsmen, mounted Knights, flying Witches etc. in order to claim territory on the map and ultimately best your enemies.
With a lot of soft and hard counters at play, strategy and positioning is important, as is using your faction’s Commander unit power to turn the tide as needed. The campaign is well-sized and features a simple but charming story. There’s plenty of maps and options whether versus AI or other humans, and the overall presentation is gorgeous. If nothing else, it definitely proved that my itch for more Advance Wars style games is alive and well, while simultaneously scratching it thoroughly.
Check out DualShockers‘ review of Wargroove.
8. Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark
Speaking of turn-based strategy game series that haven’t had a new entry in over a decade…much like Wargroove did for Advance Wars, Fell Seal managed to fill the gap of a new Final Fantasy Tactics. As a turn-based strategy-RPG with a little more “small squad” focus in missions over something like Fire Emblem, Fell Seal wears its inspirations on its sleeves and carries it off with clout. It might not trump Final Fantasy in terms of presentation or story, but the gameplay is the highlight by far; the fact that it was primarily assembled by a team of two in addition to supporting contractors is quite the feat when compared to Square Enix’s juggernaut series, however!
Each character has a primary class, and can equip a second set of abilities from another class they’ve unlocked, as well as two passive buffs and a reaction. Given that there’s about 20 classes, as well as some unique ones belonging to set characters, the options on offer are ridiculous. From start to finish, I was just enjoying myself experimenting with new combinations, figuring out good setups for certain encounters, finding class synergies, and so on. Even after finishing, it’s likely to be a game I return to in short bursts just to play around with character builds and missions.
With a little refinement, this could absolutely exceed the Final Fantasy Tactics games, but Fell Seal remains a great game even as it stands currently. I look forward to seeing what devs 6 Eyes Studio will work on next!
7. Enderal: Forgotten Stories
Some might argue that this doesn’t belong on the list, given that it’s both a Skyrim mod and has been released in an earlier form for a while. Still, it received a release on Steam in 2019 with its own splash page and library entry, so I think that’s perfectly eligible. As for the fact that it’s a Skyrim mod? Well, calling it just a mod is an utter disservice to Enderal, and I urge you to give it a try if you haven’t.
Enderal takes the game that it was built on and completely rebuilds it, with a new world, solid story, actual characters and writing, major gameplay modifications over the base game, and so much more. It plays like a more traditional “gain experience and level up” RPG, with a number of adjustments that allow for much better balancing and less system exploitation than Skyrim. And did I mention the actual characters and writing? It has those, and they really are exceptional examples not just for Skyrim, but for gaming as a whole.
Given that I personally don’t feel like Bethesda has evolved or really done anything but streamline and prettify their games since Morrowind, Enderal is exactly what I’ve been hoping for ever since. This absolutely deserves to be held up as an excellent game on its own merits, and the fact that it was built on the bones of a (in my opinion) lesser game is icing on the cake. Give it a look.
6. Devil May Cry 5
This game should, by all accounts, not exist. It’s been over a decade since DMC4, and the lukewarm response to the reboot DmC: Devil May Cry really slowed any further development on the series for a while. As such, the existence of a new numbered Devil May Cry in 2019 after all that time is a miracle on its own. But the fact that the game is an excellent iteration on the systems of its predecessors, ties up a tremendous amount of plot threads in a satisfying manner, and just kicks tremendous amounts of ass all around? Like I said, DMC5 shouldn’t exist, but it does, and I’m really glad.
Three playable characters with their own movesets, plenty of nuance and variety within each to reward player skill and expression. A solid campaign with a good mix of combat encounters, explorations, and bosses. Lots of options for difficulty. But most importantly, non-stop Devil May Cry style, flash, and utterly ridiculous yet badass moments all throughout. Yes, Devil May Cry 5 is a goddamn miracle, and Capcom is back in force. The only reason this isn’t higher in my list is because, well…it’s really not the style of game I prefer, as I’m not the sort to keep coming back and repeating levels while trying to perfect my performances. That didn’t stop me from having a blast when I did play though, so I’d feel wrong not giving it due diligence!
Check out DualShockers‘ review for Devil May Cry 5.
The only game not released in 2019 on my list, I’m nonetheless only now getting around to clearing my backlog of FromSoft titles. I didn’t have the chance to play Sekiro yet (I’m allergic to Activision’s name on the cover), so consider this a corrective measure! There’s been plenty said about Bloodborne over the years, so I almost don’t need to repeat it; suffice it to say, the game is legendary and deserves all the praise and discussion it has garnered. It’s brutal, visceral, macabre, and oh so satisfying.
My explorations of Yharnam and beyond have been eager, fascinating, challenging — nay, maddening — and I have truly enjoyed my stay with it. From the immensely detailed aesthetic to the variety of weapons and encounters, the winding maps, the many secrets…even when taking a break after getting torn apart by beasts, my mind hasn’t been far from Bloodborne for long. I’m close to finishing it now, and I intend to see this night through and wake from the dream once more. It shall no doubt remain a strong memory even after waking, though.
Check out DualShockers‘ review for Bloodborne.
4. Fire Emblem: Three Houses
The 3DS era of the Fire Emblem series started strong but quickly turned shaky. Awakening was an excellent game in my eyes, though the lean in towards more anime sensibilities over medieval wars would prove a portent for things to come. Fates went way too far in that direction, becoming a jumbled mess of plotlines and anime stereotypes with questionable gameplay decisions. Shadows of Valentia was a fine game that was nonetheless hampered by being a remake, and thus its adherence to game design from over two decades prior.
All of this made me approach Three Houses with some trepidation, but I was pleased to discover that it had taken all the best lessons of these games while shaving off most, if not all of their rough edges and mistakes. This is a fantastic game, with some of the most charming and well-written characters in the franchise. The gameplay options are extensive and allow you to deploy your chosen faction and cohorts in ways that suit your play style, and each house had enough variety in their stories that I truly couldn’t tell you which one I like the most.
Perhaps my only misgivings are with the narrative writing, as this is handled quite clumsily and proves quite disjointed in execution even after finishing all the available paths. But that wasn’t enough to stop me from sinking almost two hundred hours into this one, and enjoying nearly all of it. A great return to form for the Fire Emblem franchise!
3. Disco Elysium
As a guy who grew up playing the likes of Baldur’s Gate 2 and Planescape: Torment, I had always hoped that further tech and budgets would go into making more RPGs like that. The genre didn’t exactly die out during the time between then and now, but it certainly didn’t head in that direction. Even the crowdfunded revivals like Pillars of Eternity and Torment: Tides of Numenera felt more like iterations rather than evolutions of the concept. These were all fine games, but Disco Elysium is the first time since playing Planescape: Torment that I finally feel like somebody is building off that groundwork.
Quite frankly, Disco Elysium is a triumph of video game writing and RPG design, in 2019 or any other year. There’s no direct combat, and instead the bulk of the game sees you untangling an absolute spiderweb of interrelated conversation choices that feed off one another in remarkable ways. Every action I took, decision I made, or political stance I leaned towards returned somewhere down the line. Whether it was a bonus granted to a skill check, a spoken nod by other characters, or some rather striking changes to events, it all came full circle to me somehow. The level of detail is immaculate, and the variety in approach based on preferred skills is excellent.
This carries over to the actual plot, also. You play as a detective who has just come down from an alcoholic bender to end all benders, in which your entire memory and history has been obliterated and the player becomes as clueless as the lead character. Piecing everything together and rebuilding this broken detective’s life in the way I envisioned became one of the key driving points that kept me pushing onward. This clever use of the amnesia trope elevates it beyond stereotype, and every new thing that was discovered or hinted at lead to a thread that I just had to follow. Before I knew it, one hour became four, and I was devouring the game at a rapid pace. Disco Elysium is something special, and I really urge all RPG fans to try it out.
Check out DualShockers‘ review for Disco Elysium.
I’d imagine a lot of readers were surprised to see that Judgment was the Game of the Year for the DualShockers staff, but…well, probably not as surprised as the DualShockers staff. I wasn’t surprised, though, since I was one of the most adamant in pushing its merits. The longer the debates raged on, the more people just kind of stopped in their tracks, thought for a moment, and ended up declaring “Damn…Judgment was a really fun video game, huh?” And it was, and is, and I love it.
The latest game developed Sega’s Ryu ga Gotoku Studio (of Yakuza fame) took the chance offered by Yakuza 6’s conclusion to take a breather and approach a spinoff in the setting of Kamurocho, Tokyo. These are familiar streets, but a new cast, new direction, new plot, but same great Yakuza taste. As detective and ex-lawyer Takayuki Yagami, you work to clean up and solve a murder mystery that’s causing strife on the streets and in the yakuza clans.
Everything the Yakuza series does in spades is present here in Judgment. The world is fully-realized and dense with activities and diversions, the combat is frantic and flashy, and the story is superb. Players are rewarded for paying attention and putting the clues together, and the murder mystery at the heart of the game is well-paced and expertly delivered from beginning to end. There are great character arcs and development, tons of heart, strong highs and well-paced lows…really, it’s just an exceptional game. If you’ve never played Yakuza, you’re missing out, but thankfully Judgment is a fantastic place to jump in and try it out. In my personal view, it’s only narrowly beaten out by Yakuza 0 or Kiwami 2 as the best title in the franchise, but even the third best Yakuza means it’s one of the best games out there.
But…despite my pushing for it in DualShockers‘ GOTY 2019 Awards, it’s still not actually my first choice of the year.
Check out DualShockers‘ review for Judgment.
1. Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers
Final Fantasy XIV’s story is, as a software development project, unlike any other told within the industry. The initial release in 2010 was legendarily bad and almost killed Square Enix, let alone the Final Fantasy franchise. Its cycle of updates and eventual server closure and rebirth as FFXIV: A Realm Reborn had never been accomplished in such a scale before (or since!) in game development. FFXIV turned around from being a terrible game into a good one, with the first expansion of Heavensward furthering that into being an excellent game.
But all of that was before Shadowbringers. And Shadowbringers…well; it didn’t just beat the previous Stormblood expansion. It didn’t just match and then exceed the benchmark of Heavensward. It didn’t just correct some of the cracks forming in the game during the 4.x patch series. No…Shadowbringers has seen Final Fantasy XIV transcend to be one of the absolute best games in the entire franchise, and has firmly cemented itself not just as my unquestionable GOTY for 2019, but one of my top 5 games of all time.
This isn’t just more FFXIV, as those outside the game might see this expansion as. Rather than just a big content update, this was a continuation of the core story of the game that has run throughout FFXIV’s long and troubled history. All of the plots and characters introduced up to this point are given the chance to flourish, telling a tale that somehow manages to be deeply personal and emotional despite being in the middle of an MMORPG. The new zones, dungeons and raids tie into this excellently, and the game is mechanically the best it’s ever been. But that story…that story! When I finished the main plot of Shadowbringers, I was an emotional wreck for days afterwards from the combination of satisfaction, sadness, and feelings in general. Back that up with tremendously gorgeous visuals and a soundtrack that was absolutely robbed at the VGAs by its omission, and you have an absolute titan of a JRPG.
It might seem like I’m exaggerating, but I am not. Shadowbringers is the best that Final Fantasy has ever been. I’ve rarely if ever experienced anything like it in gaming, let alone MMOs. It is so worth persevering through the earlier parts of the game to experience, because the build-up and payoff is unbelievable. Shadowbringers is unquestionably my Game of the Year for 2019. I don’t know how they will top it, let alone reach that point again in future content. But you can be sure I will be there waiting to see it!
Check out the rest of the DualShockers staff Top 10 lists and our official Game of the Year Awards:
December 23: DualShockers Game of the Year Awards 2019
December 25: Lou Contaldi, Editor-in-Chief // Logan Moore, Managing Editor
December 26: Tomas Franzese, News Editor // Ryan Meitzler, Features Editor
December 27: Mike Long, Community Manager // Scott White, Staff Writer
December 28: Chris Compendio, Contributor // Mario Rivera, Video Manager // Kris Cornelisse, Staff Writer
December 29: Scott Meaney, Community Director // Allisa James, Senior Staff Writer // Ben Bayliss, Senior Staff Writer
December 30: Cameron Hawkins, Staff Writer // David Gill, Senior Staff Writer // Portia Lightfoot, Contributor
December 31: Iyane Agossah, Senior Staff Writer // Michael Ruiz, Senior Staff Writer // Rachael Fiddis, Contributor
January 1: Ricky Frech, Senior Staff Writer // Tanner Pierce, Staff Writer // Laddie Simco, Staff Writer