Thursday, December 29, 2016

Alex's Top 8 Handheld Games of 2016

My other online life as Managing Editor at RPGamer means that my personal favourites lists are regularly dominated by RPGs, and this year certainly had plenty of releases on that front. This was also a good year for the PlayStation Vita, as far from being dead, it dominated my personal rankings in terms of the number of games played and completed, but the 3DS got its fair share of great titles as well. It's been a great year for handheld releases across the board, and my list really is only a microcosm of the huge list of fine handheld titles released this year.

#1 Steins;Gate 0 (Vita)

Despite my primary focus on RPGs, I have a fondness for visual novels, particularly when they're as good as the Steins;Gate games. Steins;Gate 0 is a more than worthy follow up to the brilliance of the original game. It's a testament to the game that despite it having a somewhat depressing premise and situation, it absolutely sucked me in and I needed to know what happened next, frequently at the cost of sleep. The path to Steins;Gate is one I'd recommend all travel on.

#2 The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II (Vita)

Ideally I'd be able to label these top two 1A and 1B. Steins;Gate just edged it out for it's slightly greater ability to suck me in completely, but Trails of Cold Steel II comes close in that regard. Nihon Falcom has quickly established itself as one of my favourite developers (helped massively by fantastic localisations from XSEED Games) with its recent amazing entries in The Legend of Heroes series. Both Cold Steel games maintain the incredible world building and storytelling that came with Trails in the Sky, once again providing a thoroughly engaging tale, accompanying it with a high-quality combat system.

#3 Bravely Second: End Layer (3DS)

The Bravely series has revitalised turn-based combat, and Bravely Second ably picks up where Bravely Default left off. The strategic aspects of using up to four turns at once, at the possible cost of being defenceless next turn, are again used to superb effect in combination with the vast selection of jobs on offer. New cast members Yew and Magnolia are excellent additions to the cast, with Tiz, Edea, and Agn├ęs ably supporting them. Although Ryo doesn't quite have the same bombastic quality as Revo's, his musical contribution is still excellent. Lessons have been learned from those aspects in Bravely Default that didn't go over well and the changes made have helped result in another excellent offering.

#4 God Eater 2: Rage Burst (Vita)

I've never been a fan of the Monster Hunter series. The lack of any real story and substance to its setting means the series just has no appeal to me. However, I have enjoyed games that couple its general gameplay style with some narrative substance, and God Eater proves to be one of the best by providing an interesting futuristic setting where the world is overrun by creatures called Aragami and coupling it with highly entertaining gameplay. The criminally-underused Go Shiina also returns to surpass the already excellent soundtrack from the first game. Fantastic music, great gameplay, and an interesting setting and tale make for a winner in my book.

#5 — Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma (Vita)

The Zero Escape series flew under the radar initially, but eventually picked up the recognition it deserved. Admittedly, this third game in the series doesn't quite have the same pull as Virtue's Last Reward, if simply because of how it has to cope with the raised stakes from that game's compelling finale, but it's a worthwhile follow-up for those who enjoyed both VLR and 999. It may seem like I'm a bit down on the game compared to others in this list, but that's really because it has to draw comparisons to VLR, one of my favourite titles of all time. ZTD just has the misfortune of simply being great against something outstanding. Hopefully, series director and writer Kotaru Uchikoshi returns with a new release (either with the series or something fresh) soon.

#6 Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Spirit of Justice (3DS)

The Ace Attorney series is one of those at the stage where there is a danger of it becoming stale. However, its developers did an excellent job avoiding that in this, its sixth mainline title. Spirit of Justice makes great use of characters from throughout all of the series, freshening up by taking things to a new setting. Entertaining characters new and old combine to make courtroom drama fun once more. While it strikes a bit of a dud with its fourth case, but the twists and turns of the final one ensure it will be remembered as one of the series' greatest.

#7 Root Letter (Vita)

The second visual novel on my list, Root Letter doesn't offer the same narrative excellence as Steins;Gate, but what it does do is help transport people to a lovingly-crafted setting. Set in the real-life city of Matsue, the game takes places to numerous real locations that have been faithfully and beautifully recreated in its artwork. The game also helps craft an engaging mystery and allows it to play out in multiple genre-spanning ways depending on how players respond at certain points. It's worth checking out just for how much care went into the setting and seeing how differently the mystery gets resolved between routes.

#8 Ray Gigant (Vita)

I've never been a huge fan of dungeon-crawlers, but I very much enjoyed Ray Gigant. The game has been referred to by some as a dungeon-crawler for those who aren't fans of the sub-genre, taking the base gameplay aspects but making them much more accessible. This went over well with me as I didn't have to spend ages trying to figure out the minutiae of character growth aspects that so often accompany such titles. The game is also notable from using a generally effective perspective-based graphical style, which did a good job showing battles against the game's gigantic bosses.

Honorable mention: Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, which would have made this list had I not played it on PlayStation 4.

1 comment:

  1. Shin Megami Tensei IV Apocalypse isn't here? Absolute nonsense. I would easily place it between #1 and #3.
    If you haven't played it, go play it now!