ATTENTION: The year 2014 has concluded its temporal self-destruct sequence. If you are among the escapees, please join us in salvaging and preserving the best games from the irradiated chrono-debris.
Sometimes, you just wanna sidequest. For those times, there's Fantasy Life.
Fantasy Life is fun in the way that checking off items on a checklist is fun. There's a solid action-RPG here from Professor Layton series creator Level-5, sure, but much of my time in Fantasy Life was spent completing sidequests, crafting equipment, and hunting down component items so that I could craft more equipment and complete more sidequests. You don't even have to kill anything to complete the game - you can smith, cook, sew, and alchemize your way to victory if that's the way you want to play it.
Fantasy Life is an endless grind that remains compelling even after I've completed hundreds of its quests. If you don't fit into its niche, you'll be bored immediately. If you're a specific breed of completionist, Fantasy Life is impossible to put down. In either case, beware.
A mixture of detective noir, point-and-click adventure gaming, and relentless mundane detail (but, like, in a good way), D4 is a memorable journey like none other. I'd expect nothing less from the mind that brought us Deadly Premonition - one of my favorite games from the last console generation.
D4 dazzles throughout with strange characters, surreal QTEs, and lengthy investigative sequences that prove oddly immersive when paired with Kinect. The only real bummer is that it launched incomplete; so far, only the first season of content is available, and the final episode ends on an agonizing cliffhanger. Hey, Microsoft? Please, please fund and publish a second season of D4. I need to know how this crazy thing ends.
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call
I didn't expect much in the way of improvements when I went in to review Square Enix's latest Final Fantasy-flavored rhythm game, but Curtain Call was such a massive step forward from the original Theatrhythm that it ranked as one of my favorite releases of 2015. Months after its release, I still fire it up every so often to tap through a few songs before moving on to something else (spoiler: it's probably more Fantasy Life).
Curtain Call includes the bulk of the original Theatrhythm's content while adding dozens of new tracks, making it an essential purchase for both Final Fantasy fans and anyone who appreciates expertly crafted rhythm gameplay. And man. I can't wait for Theatrhythm Dragon Quest. That's gonna rule.
Escape Goat 2
High-level nerd explanation: It's a better version of Solomon's Key with a Falcom-inspired soundtrack. For some, this is all that needs to be said.
Explanation for normal people: Escape Goat 2 is a brilliant single-screen puzzle-platformer starring a double-jumping goat and its magical mouse companion. Every single level is built to teach you something new and interesting about the game's nuanced mechanics, and working your way through its campaign is a maddening, illuminating journey. I love it, and I want more.
Fantasia: Music Evolved
Harmonix single-handedly justified the existence of the Kinect with its Dance Central series, and the studio's Fantasia: Music Evolved is equally revolutionary and fun. Its motion-tracking mechanics work incredibly well, and its abstract music-remixing gameplay is moving in a way that's difficult to articulate unless you've experienced it for yourself.
It's a shame that Microsoft basically abandoned Kinect partway through this year, because D4 and Fantasia demonstrate that the peripheral still has tons of untapped potential. As a sendoff, though, the Kinect could not ask for a better swan song than Fantasia.
Other games I enjoyed but don't have much to say about:
Crimzon Clover: World Ignition. A polished and wonderful bullet hell shooter in the style of Cave's DonPachi series.
Drakengard 3. Fantastically blunt writing and a story that inverts cliched video game masculinism make this one worthwhile. Shame that the gameplay itself isn't better.
[MODE]. Experimental FMV madness produced during the CD-ROM boom of the early '90s. I've never played it and I never will, but this thorough Let's Play series is one of the best things I've watched all year.
Hay Day. SuperCell is one of the few mobile studios that knows how to make free-to-play games that are addictive but not exploitative. Boom Beach is also worth a try, especially if you're burned out on Clash of Clans.
Earth Defense Force 2025. It's more Earth Defense Force, and sometimes, that's all you need.
[Images: Level-5, Access Games, Square Enix, MagicalTimeBean, Harmonix)