Josh Tolentino's personal picks for Game of the Year 2015


AKA The Anime Awards

As Chris Carter likes to say, every year is a good year for games if you look hard enough. That said, 2015 seemed particularly fecund, thanks to a particularly diverse selection of things I ended up liking quite a bit. From out-of-nowhere indie productions to highly anticipated franchise releases, I was never lacking for something worth playing.

Now, freed from the tyranny of democratic selection, I’m free to talk about my favorite games of last year. And because I can, I’ll also be highlighting my favorite anime series of last year. While the ranked toplistsof the best shows are over at our sister site Japanator, this piece is where I get to mash together my favorite games and anime of the preceding year in an absurdly contrived set of award categories, as the gods intended.

The “Old Story, Good As New” Award

Pillars of Eternity and Fate/Stay night: Unlimited Blade Works

This award goes to games and anime that are in many ways old, but presented in a way that makes them seem new and fresh.

Obsidian’s crowdfunded take on the long-quiescent style of the classic Infinity Engine RPGs reaffirmed that the old formula was not only still viable but pretty damn good, adding new ideas and contemporary touches that made its original setting of Aedyr feel as rich and fresh as Faerun did back in the Baldur’s Gatedays.

Studio Ufotable managed a similar feat with its animated adaptation of Type-MOON’s 2004 visual novel, and while neither anime nor the Fateproperty could be said to have been dormant, the twists, additions, and embellishments the renowned studio added to Kinoko Nasu’s original tale put a new spin on a story most fans, myself included, had thought thoroughly explored. In fact, it’s thanks to that stuff that this series feels like the definitive version of the scenario, deepening the core story of heroism with a bittersweet look at its costs.

Runners-up: Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut andJoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders

The “I’m Having A Great Time, But…” Award

Fallout 4 and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders

This award goes to games and anime that I had a blast with, but just couldn’t enjoy without caveats, either in retrospect or recommendation.

I’ve got more than a hundred hours logged with Fallout 4, which is kind of scary since I’m nowhere near finished. That’s because I consider myself a big Fallout fan, and this is possibly the least Fallout-like Falloutgame anyone’s ever made (barring Brotherhood of Steel). The tension’s never been higher between the way Fallout was as a series and the way Fallout is as a game made in the fashion Bethesda prefers. At the same time, Fallout 4is some of the most fun I’ve had with any “Bethesda-style” game. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring, looting, shooting, and the way the studio’s typical talent for environmental storytelling has lapsed into self-parody (“Oh, an artfully posed skeleton!”). I’m still not sure how happy I am with Fallout 4as a representative of the series’ future, but despite the changes, it’s been as engaging as ever, if in a different way than before.

Thankfully, though, the caveats associated with JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders can be blamed on the source material. The latest phase in David Production’s take on the long-running series suffers from a meandering progression, an overlong broadcast run, and flat character arcs compared to the first two chapters, Phantom Blood and Battle Tendency. At the same time, it’s packed with some of the most memorable moments in the entire saga (like a glorious twenty-second fight that takes ten full minutes), and still remains a joy to watch, start to finish.

Runners-up: Metal Gear Solid Vand GATE

The “Best-Yet-Least-Informative Opening” Award

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and Death Parade

This award goes to title whose (otherwise awesome) early bits practically misrepresent the rest of the (still awesome) experience.

The opening hour or so of Metal Gear Solid Vis pure Metal Gearas we had come to know it before 2015. Lots of cinematic flair and cryptic nonsense rooted in the depths of Hideo Kojima’s mind. The game that followed felt almost nothing like that first blast of familiar insanity. It felt like Peace Walker, which some didn’t see as a “real” Metal Gear. That is, until The Phantom Painseemed to reveal itself as the game Kojima had always wanted to create, freed by technology to be closer than ever to that vision. It turns out he wanted to make the ultimate version of Peace Walker. That’s pretty great, since Peace Walker, and now The Phantom Pain, are as much about the stories that players make for themselves as they are about the grizzled soldiers that star in the opening credits, a fact that’s not lost on the main story as well.

Madhouse’sDeath Paradealso opens strong, but tricks the viewer twice at the outset. The first is in the killer opening sequence, which, despite being superbly animated, featuring a fun song by a bunch of guys who dress like the people you beat up in Yakuza games, barely has anything to do with the show itself, seeming to sell Death Paradeas some kind of party anime. The first episode baits the audience more subtly, leading them to think they might be in for a season’s worth of voyeuristic glee, watching the newly-dead get judged by a purgatorial bartender over pub games. Instead, what follows is far more thoughtful and even interesting, though definitely not what folks might have signed up for initially.

Runners-up: Fallout 4 and Comical Psychosomatic Medicine

The “Existential Crisis” Award

Invisible, Inc. and One Punch Man

This award goes to the rare game or show that does what it does so well that I end up questioning my ability to critique it, and by extension, critique anything at all.

Games like Invisible, Inc. and shows likeOne Punch Manmake me not want to do reviews sometimes, because the process of reviewing often means you’re aware of things that you later can’t ignore in the name of having fun. In some ways this award is the opposite of the one I passed to Fallout 4and Stardust Crusadersabove. In the case of Klei’s turn-based heist game and Madhouse’s animated take on the popular superhero satire, playing or watching in the critical state of mind leaves me with little to hold against either, causing me to question whether I’ve somehow missed something or if there’s something I’ve done wrong, because nothing can feel this perfect to play and/or watch.

I’m not saying they’re flawless, but they do a damned good job of making it look that way, by mastering their narrow niche and seemingly leaving nothing to chance or apathy.

Runners-up: The Witcher 3and Blood Blockade Battlefront

The “Actual Best of 2015” Award

Undertaleand Shirobako

OK, hear me out: Yes, I practically just gave a different game and series perfect marks not two paragraphs ago, to the point of stating that I had so much fun playing/watching them that I didn’t even feel comfortable exerting critical thinking in their presence. So why are my “actual” favorites these two?

Well, the last two were fun, and practically bulletproof in my opinion, but neither made me more excited about games — and anime — this year than Undertale and Shirobako. Both took structures and genres I’d taken for granted as “comfortably moribund” and refreshed them in a way that made me feel better about both games and anime in general.

Undertalewas a delightful, iconoclastic send-up of the JRPG tradition, making hoary old conventions classed even by their fans as “comfort food” feel fresh andimpactful again.Shirobakoexcelled by having more life and heart than most shows that get tagged with the “slice-of-life” descriptor, crafting genuine humanity out of the trials and triumphs of a small-time anime studio.

The “Oh God Why Am I Still Playing This” Special Award

Destiny: The Taken King and Star Trek Online

Because oh god why am I still playing these send help please

Steins;Gateand Steins;Gate