While we could go about naming our definitive game of the year, slapping a sticker on the cover of a box, and calling it a day, this year we felt we should take a different route.
As such, several of our top writers are joining forces to fight for their Game of the Year, no matter what it might be, in an effort to prove everyone else wrong.
Here are our picks games of the year.
I strongly believe that a Game of the Year should carve its own path, offer players something new, and be good enough to convince people who might not like a genre of games that it has something to offer. Disco Elysium does all of those things and more. It meshes together elements of pen-and-paper RPGs, noir detective novels, existential musings, and the best writing in video games since Planescape: Torment.
You play the part of a cop who can’t remember anything about his own life. Strewn all around you is the evidence that may be the life you forgot didn’t have too many high points, and you must navigate the clues of your own disgrace while also trying to solve a case. A man was found hanging in a tree nearby, and it is up to you to put everything together. Disco Elysium is as much about deciding who you want to be as it is about solving the case.
Unlike traditional RPGs where you simply spam dialogue options, in Disco Elysium, people remember what you say to them. Asking too many questions can mean you are actually giving too much information to the wrong person. Your ability to converse with other people, siphon information while giving up as little as possible, and think beyond the confines of your own feeble, pickled cop brain is the fulcrum on which this delicate, beautiful, and nuanced game is built. You also have to pay terrifyingly close attention to the voices in your head, and where they are trying to lead you.
The only reason Disco Elysium would not be at the top of someone’s Game of the Year list for 2019 is that they simply didn’t have time to play it yet. If you haven’t, this game should be rushed to the front of your list.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Fire Emblem makes its grand return to home consoles after 2008’s Radiant Dawn for the Nintendo Wii. After being exclusively handheld for nearly a decade, Fire Emblem: Three Houses offers a triumphant experience for newcomers and veterans of the series alike. Intelligent Systems and Koei Tecmo worked extensively, despite delaying Three Houses twice to make sure it would be the best Fire Emblem title ever—if not Game of the Year for 2019.
The 16th entry in the series offers tons of hours of content—playing just one of the many routes put me at about 60 hours. Fire Emblem: Three Houses takes a unique approach in training up your units from one of the three student houses as a professor, then putting them into battles that can cost their lives if not careful (unless you’re playing in Casual Mode).
The story has improved immensely compared to Fates’ disappointing narrative, and it shows you different sides of the main characters and their reasons to change their home world of Fódlan for the better, whether you picked their house or not. You grow close to the characters and see how they interact in support conversations, which are fully voice acted and done exceptionally well.
Fire Emblem sneaked its way into being one of my favorite gaming franchises of all time thanks to the fun turn-based strategy gameplay and characters that are dynamic and have their quirks in combat. The game was met with critical praise and fantastic sales, so many can agree that the 16th entry is the greatest in the franchise so far. Fire Emblem: Three Houses is the perfect gateway into the series for newcomers and a heartfelt love letter to veterans.
Luigi’s Mansion 3
The latest Luigi’s Mansion game came out of left field for me. I was really expecting the experience to continue on from what I enjoyed back on prior systems like the GameCube and 3DS. But imagine my surprise when I discovered that Next Level Games packed Luigi’s Mansion 3 with some of the biggest left field turns yet.
First off, the gameplay has expanded—a lot. It feels like a completely different beast, with the new functionality within the game. Not to mention that it makes multiplayer feel worthwhile in itself, rather than just something that’s tacked on.
But it’s the overall design that I’m in awe of. The way Luigi animates throughout the game is spectacular, and really says a lot for his character. The boss battles are wonderful, the new items you pick up along the way are meaningful, and the design as a whole is just a treat from beginning to end.
So while some folks rattle off their more serious choices on this list, I’m going to remain a fan of this small but significant delight. The way Next Level Games is going, they can do no wrong. Now, about that Punch-Out!! revival….
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
By Zack Palm
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice took the Dark Souls formula and came forward with several unique twists. It stood out as a different game, while also leaning into several of the genre’s roots with fierce enemies, a focus on dodging, and having to fight tough opponents again and again. There was plenty of old here, but so much more new that made Sekiro’s journey from start to finish feel gripping.
Yet, Sekiro had so many different flavors about it that the developers should focus on as a stamp to follow in the future. Rather than outmaneuvering an enemy through a simple dodge and attack, players had to parry and perfectly sync the attacks, while also focusing on the tools of their character’s prosthetic arm. It made the combat feel like a natural progression.
Some players may have gone through a good chunk of the start blindly learning how to parry, and barely progressing. However, when they fight one of the more significant bosses, it’s a real test to see how much they’ve learned along the way. It did force players to agree with its gameplay, but it provided several capacities for players to learn and become stronger. Even if they messed up, death was never final.
I want to see how From Software builds up from this approach and adds to it, if they decide to do a sequel to Shadows Die Twice. If they do, great. If not, Sekiro was an excellent journey with plenty of replayability, and it also shows the company can expand out from their expected titles to great authentic and treasured new stories in different worlds. From Software outdid themselves with Sekiro, and it was my top standout in 2019.
For more of our Year in Review 2019 series, head to our hub page.