It’s time to close the book on 2016’s gaming history. A big year for game releases is behind us, with several massive franchises popping up throughout the year… and a lot of pleasant little surprises too. We had some games that had been over a decade in waiting, and others that we only found out about weeks before their arrival. Games of all genres graced our consoles and computers, with sequels, expansions, reboots, and brand new titles all coming out this past year.
What amazed me this year was how few games were quite what I was expecting. Several games I expected to love I wasn’t terribly fond of, while others that I was concerned about I ended up being blown away by. Picking the games for this year’s list had a few obvious spots, but there are about 7 games fighting for those last couple slots, none of which are clear picks.
So without any further delay… let’s jump into the Best Games of 2016!
6) Rise of the Tomb Raider
Yes, Rise of the Tomb Raider technically came out in 2015. But the PS4 version is the one I played and it came out in 2016, so it earns its place here on a technicality. Well, that and by the fact that it was an amazing experience. It had a few minor flaws, but in terms of gameplay the mechanics were fantastic and the main character’s design and development were among the best you’ll find.
What I love most about the Tomb Raider games is how they manage to make archery feel so incredible. Typically if a game features a bow, it feels like little more than a weak gun… yet the Tomb Raider games spotlight the stealthiness, precision, and customizability that bows give you to make it a ton of fun to use. Who needs guns when you’ve got a bow around?
5) Ratchet & Clank
Speaking of weapons… Ratchet and Clank’s reboot featured an array of ridiculous weapons including some of my favourite weapons that I’ve ever seen in a game. This game reveled in excess, granting you the glorious carnage created by weapons that make no logical sense but are all the more fun for it.
I am also a huge fan of games that don’t take themselves seriously. There’s something to be said for breaking the fourth wall and, when done properly, it can create comic gold. Ratchet & Clank is constantly aware of the absurdity of some of what happens, and it uses that awareness to make everything enjoyable. Oh, and Mr Zurkon is awesome. That is all.
4) Nights of Azure
I would wager a lot of people outside of this site have never played this game, and many will have never heard of it. And this is a real pity. The game has one of the more interesting and touching stories of the year featuring a wonderfully handled tragic love story between two young ladies.
There are two things, aside from the story, that made this game really stand out. The first was the game’s strategic battle system that relied on customizable teams of familiars and our protagonist’s mutable weapon. The second was the game’s phenomenal presentation. The visuals were incredible and the soundtrack was among the best I’ve ever heard. This charming JRPG is one that will likely be overlooked as the time goes on, but it’s one that doesn’t deserve obscurity so you owe it to yourself to at least look into it.
3) Uncharted 4
Most developers would’ve seen Nathan Drake as an exploitable character to pump games out for as long as they exist. But not Naughty Dog… Naughty Dog created Uncharted 4 to offer him an ending. A grand finale… the opportunity to go out with a bang and leave us all with fond memories of the good times. And they succeeded. Uncharted 4 is the perfect way to end a legend’s story.
Every positive aspect of the Uncharted series was amped up to the next degree within Uncharted 4, offering an experience that really did everything you want from this genre. The action was explosive, the history rich, and the dialog full of all the one-liners you’d want. And the game’s ending did a perfect job of wrapping up ‘Nathan Drake’ as a character. Farewell Drake, you will be remembered fondly.
2) Final Fantasy XV
SquareEnix clearly was not happy with ‘Final Fantasy’… because they abandoned almost everything that made the series what it was when creating FFXV. Outside of a few obvious attempts at nostalgia and the ‘staples’ like Chocobos, Cid, and summoned monsters… the game has very little that feels ‘Final Fantasy’. And, honestly, I don’t care. Which is probably the greatest testament to this game’s quality. When you can get a huge Final Fantasy fan to not care that the game feels nothing like Final Fantasy, you’ve created something special.
They did so many things right with this one. They created a cast of four characters that you actually care about – one way or another – in a very strong way. There were even scenes where I found myself genuinely angry at one character for his behaviour. They build a gorgeous world with what is unquestionably the prettiest city I’ve ever seen. They created an exciting and high paced gameplay system that surpassed any expectations I had. If this is the future of Final Fantasy, I’m okay with that – even if I will miss what Final Fantasy used to be.
1) Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 2
Here we reach the cream of the crop. The game that finally dethroned Xenogears’ decade+ long run as ‘Best JRPG of all time’ in my eyes. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 2 is a near-perfect JRPG with a spectacular cast, an incredibly well-written story, an awesome soundtrack, great minigames, strategic gameplay, and a ton of content. I could keep going, but we’d be here all day.
What I want to spotlight is this series’ specialty: Making you care about things that aren’t directly involved with your character. Cold Steel 2 made me care about NPCs, about cities, about a country, even about villains. It gave more love to ‘single use’ side characters than some RPGs give to members of its core cast. It gave such attention to this country’s rich history, and such love to its population centers. I cannot speak highly enough about the feeling this game was able to instill in me, and how strong the connection I had to this game as a whole. It is an amazing accomplishment, and one that made this game incontestable as #1 on this list.