We didn’t get a chance to play a lot of the games we hoped to this year, but that doesn’t mean we weren’t playing anything. Some of our favorites were games we revisited, games we discovered late, and/or games we’d been putting off since last year—and they deserve recognition, too! Join us as we take a look at the games we loved in 2019, even if they weren’t actually released this year.
Wandersong is a game I decided to revisit, and it remains as sweet as ever. What is a more powerful statement than resolving problems through the power of song? The controls and mechanics of the game still feel good, and its cut-paper-styled visuals remain as cute and charming as they always did. The coffee-addicted pirates led by your little bard probably have one of the best harmonies in any game ever.
I didn’t play many games this year, but I’m glad that Mutazione was one of them. This adventure game follows Kai, a young girl visiting her ailing grandfather on an island of mutants. You don’t fight the mutants—you get to know them, planting musical gardens and healing their trauma and the trauma of the earth at the same time. It’s quiet and peaceful, driven by complicated emotions and interpersonal drama rather than stress and action.
The details have begun to fade in the months since I’ve played it, but the feeling hasn’t. It, like Sayonara Wild Hearts, happened to come out around the same time as the viral Untitled Goose Game, and didn’t see nearly as much coverage. But it’s a wonderful game that I hope people discover over time; it was easily one of the most emotionally investing games I played this year and I wish I could do it again with fresh eyes.
Final Fantasy XIII (2009)
Final Fantasy gives me the good brain juice. I loved spending time with Lightning and crew this year, and while I think X is always going to be my favorite Final Fantasy story, I found the combat system to be a really innovative evolution of FFX’s Sphere Grid and FFXII’s Gambit system. I loved the soundtrack, the summons, and the character growth throughout the story, and for that it will always have a special place in my heart.
Monster Hunter: World (2018)
I never stopped playing Monster Hunter: World, and like an MMO (I wouldn’t categorize it as such, but it is indeed trying to be one), it is something that I can endlessly binge for hours or step away from and end up forgetting about it for a while. The recent Iceborne expansion added a lot of quality-of-life changes to the game, and though some are totally optional and self-serving, it’s still fun stuff you can do with your feline partners.
Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey (2018)
I’ve been a passive Assassin’s Creed fan since my roommate in college was obsessed and I watched her play through the first few games, but I had never played one through until Odyssey. The promise of ancient Greece, which I’m a nerd about, lured me in into the series, along with an interesting lady protagonist and plenty of romanceable love interests. And with my honeymoon to Greece this past September, I wanted to get acquainted with some of the scenery to get hyped for my big trip! I loved Odyssey just for the chance to wander around the beautiful landscape, but it was fun finally entering the Animus and taking up the mantle myself!
Celeste is a game I “finished” earlier in 2019, but towards the end of 2019 I picked it back up again to assuage the completionist in me. Although I’ll never be able to 100% it—the C sides and “Farewell” chapter are definitely out of my skill range—I’m enjoying slowly chipping away at the B sides, crystal hearts, and strawberries. This beautiful, challenging, amazingly soundtracked game is definitely one of my personal GOTY contenders for 2019… even though it came out in 2018.
80 Days (2014)
There are not enough good adventure stories. But you know what? There are enough good adventure stories in 80 Days to keep me occupied for a good long while.
In this steampunk-y adaptation of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days, you play as a combination of Phileas Fogg and his valet, Passepartout, on their journey to circumnavigate the globe in just 80 days. That’s all well and good, but the real draw is the complexity and depth of the side stories, the casual examples of positive representation, the thrill of each encounter.
This game deserves every single bit of praise I’ve seen it receive over the years and then some. I’m not exaggerating—this is one of my very favorite games I’ve ever played, and just thinking about it fills me with excitement. It’s wonderful.
Stardew Valley (2016)
If you ever just want to take a moment to not think about things and unwind, a game like Stardew Valley is a great place to escape. Unlike something like The Sims, where chaos must be channeled to fuel your playing energy, progress in Stardew Valley can only be achieved by means of peace. Stardew succeeds and continues to thrive through its self-sustaining community and regular updates. I have always loved the Story of Seasons (née Harvest Moon) games but I unfortunately have not been that enamored by recent titles. Stardew Valley, on the other hand, has continued to impress me in the meanwhile by doing new things that Story of Seasons has yet to experiment with.
Hollow Knight (2017)
I discovered Hollow Knight this year after long conflating it with the similarly titled Shovel Knight and assuming I wouldn’t enjoy it. I was so, so wrong, and in fact, I think Hollow Knight is the pinnacle of what I consider my favorite game type: metroidvanias. It has become easily my number one game ever, with its stunningly beautiful art and music, difficult (but definitely doable) puzzle platforming, and slow build to its breathtaking and deeply layered story. My only regret is not having played it sooner.
— Emily D.
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age (2017)
Dragon Quest XI is actually my first game in this long-running franchise, and I found myself enjoying this entry a lot! I’ve been a fan of Akira Toriyama’s other stuff and his unapologetic weirdness, so even I’m surprised that I am only just getting into Dragon Quest now. This is quite a long game, and I’ve been pretty invested in my journey as this Trunks-look-alike Luminary thus far.
Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018)
I held off playing Red Dead Redemption 2, despite being told that I would love it and despite knowing that I liked the first one, because I’m a snob and because I knew once I started it I’d feel like I had to finish it. I regret to say that all of the above is true—I do love it and I know I’m going to finish it, even though I don’t have time to do things like that.
Red Dead Redemption 2, much to my chagrin, is more than the snobby me gave it credit for. Arthur Morgan is a genuinely interesting character—his tough-guy, devil-may-care machismo is a front for being more perceptive and sensitive than he lets on. The game lets you get away with thinking he is merely a cool cowboy if you prefer (that’s actually one of my biggest complaints about it), but other characters remark on his sadness, with one even comparing him to a romantic poet. The story’s narrative, when it’s not about being a rootin’-tootin’ cowboy in the last days of the Wild West, is one that can easily be read to be about abuse of power, of the seductive nature of belonging, of grappling with ideas of comfort versus morality and finding a way to exist in times of change.
Am I overselling a Rockstar game with controls so janky I frequently shoot the people I’m trying to say hello to? Quite possibly. But I’m delighted to be surprised by Red Dead Redemption 2, and I’m glad I finally got around to playing it.
Melissa Brinks is Sidequest’s editor in chief, co-creator of the Fake Geek Girls podcast, author of The Compendium of Magical Beasts, and an aspiring beekeeper. She once won an argument on the internet, and tweets at @MelissaBrinks.