All I can say about 2018 is that if it were not for this gig, the games, The Last King podcast side gig thing, and that pretty awesome Spider-Man movie, I would have deemed it the worst year of my God-given existence.

But you’re here for video game talk, so I’ll spare you all the grisly details. I’ll say this: when one door closes, a bigger one opens. I for one am glad and thankful that:

(i) I get to run this awesome shindig with my pal Kenn Leandre.

(ii) I get to keep the pop culture podcasting dream going with Dr. Shafique & Electric Eccentric Tom. The show is on Spotify; do look out for it.

(iii) contrary to popular belief, there are sane & reasonable people in Southeast Asia/the world KKP can work with for the future. The pals who contributed to our Best of 2018 bits the past few days are proof of this.

(iii) I get to work with talented up-and-coming folks like Alleef, Burhanudin, Kumikones, Sensei, Yue Lynn, Megikari, and more. The future is looking bright indeed!

(iv) I get to hear Dato’ Sri Siti Nurhaliza sing live during the WESG opening act. The Malaysian pop singer’s still got it.

Let’s not forget why you’re really here: to see what my top 10 picks are for this year. So let’s not dilly dally! But first, did you get to watch this awesome SoundScape 2018 video I made?

Honourable Mentions:

Warframe

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A 2013 game gets my vote for best ongoing experience of 2018. Dat Fortuna update yo!

Red Dead Redemption 2

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The second half of the game is questionable, at least until the epilogue fixed it, but the first half is GOTY material. C’mon, that bar scene with Arthur and Lenny was gold.

#10. Wandersong

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A pleasant little adventure, this one. You play a bard and instil confidence and passion into the people you meet from a cynical witch to a former ensemble band. All this to keep the world from ending itself.

Among all the games on this top 10, this is probably the second game where you don’t off people to solve problems. You sing and/or dance. Simple as that. The OST, vibe, and simple-yet-sweet narrative make this one stand out among all the other narrative-based games out there.

#9. Dragon Ball FighterZ

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Arguably the best tribute to anime in fighting game form. I remember playing a lot of Dragon Ball Super Butouden on SNES.

God I’m old.

So it’s with great joy to see a Dragon Ball game going back to 2D fighting game form with lovely 3D graphics and cel-shading to make it look as bombastic and bright as its shonen source material.

I may not be great at tag-team fighting games, but I still have a blast just going nuts with my Android 16/Goku Black/Vegeta trio and just seeing the fireworks. And man, those Dramatic Finishes sealed the deal for me.

#8. Monster Hunter: World

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Capcom did right with the Monster Hunter game. It did the impossible; it made casual action gamers care and invested in the game. The small-yet-significant changes from how monsters are tracked to how each weapon functions mean that players can take their time getting the hang of monster hunting.

And if they feel like going into the deep end, they can do so with the high-level hunts and party up with other like-minded folks to go monster-hunting. To which I say “eff that” and just be happy with the fact I can take down some of the tougher beasts with my katana, mallet, and bowgun skills.

#7. Dead Cells

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Balls-to-the-wall action. This one’s a tough pick since I played a LOT of great 2D Metroidvania-style platformers and straight-up linear ones: Iconoclast, Celeste, The Messenger, Dandara. Among all of these, Dead Cells stood out because of how it looks, how it plays, and how it controls.

You have to live with your choices of weapons since you can only carry so much, and you have the best dodge controls known to a 2D game this year that you really need to exploit against the enemies and tough obstacles here. You get to pick your own paths here to either make your journey to the king easier or tougher. Most importantly, the action is meaty and frenetic to the point where you want to take “one more play session” even after your death, just to see how far you can make it. Pure arcade action bliss.

#6. Soulcalibur 6

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I played the heck out of the Dreamcast Soul Calibur for god knows how long. So it’s only fitting I cherish the seventh game in the long-standing series because it hearkens back to that sequel, but amps it up with new game-changing mechanics.

Reversal Edges can help fend off horizontal/vertical spammers as long as you know they’re not going to sidestep, and can even put you in the advantage if you get the “Rock-Paper-Scissors-Plus” mechanic it’s attached with. Soul Charges make your trademark strings and one-hit attacks buffed-up; suddenly Astaroth’s 1A is a lot more dangerous.

As a fan of a series and a competent player of the 8-Way Run church, I do hope this game goes places in 2019, because what we have right now is a damn good sword-based fighting game that focuses on the meat and trimmed the series’ fat.

#5. Return of the Obra Dinn

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Among all the indies I played this year, none of them stood out more than Lucas Pope’s latest. The man behind Papers, Please has struck gold with this time-traveling past-revisiting adventure mystery where you play an insurance adjuster from the East India Company who has to find out what happened on the ghost ship Obra Dinn.

And that’s all I’m going to mention. To discover what happened and to see the mystery unfold is a delight in itself. You have to use processes of elimination and deduction to sort out the ship crew count with what little info you have. The monochrome aesthetics and forboding minimalistic music also help amplify the atmosphere that there’s truly a lot of FUBAR stuff going on.

#4. Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna ~ The Golden Country

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You can’t have a “Mr Toffee’s Best Of” list without an RPG or two taking over the top 5. I loved Xenoblade Chronicles 2, so when Nintendo announced a prequel to that story where Torna existed, I was really excited to check it out. And by golly, it did deliver.

True, you may need context from Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and the 100 hours of investment to get the most out of the 20-hour prequel. But everything from its improved combat system, its lovely sights and new music, to its colourful cast of characters is worth the trip if only because I wanted to see how things were before the s*** hit the fan at the end.

I got to see the budding relationship between Jin, Lora, and Haze before Xenoblade 2’s storyline. I even get to witness Morag’s predecessor and the fabled hero of legend in their prime, since they were referenced a lot. The journey here is way more intriguing than the eventual destination; that says a lot about the game’s narrative despite its many anime tropes.

#3. Octopath Traveler

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There’s more to this game than its godlike soundtrack, just so you know. You have eight interesting and fun protagonists with their own tales to complete, and you have a really awesome battle system that mostly works against bosses and big-sized enemies, not so much the smaller ones. You can mix and match character jobs and classes if you explored the game and took your time uncovering shrines and doing sidequests. And you can choose to participate in the optional endgame even if its resolution and execution leaves a lot to be desired. Plus, the 2D-and-3D diorama look is one for the ages, especially when you have Square Enix and Acquire behind the aesthetics.

Yeah, this game has some quirks and no true way to tie in its eight travelers together unlike in a SaGa game. But the rest of the game is pure gold because of their engaging narrative and fun-if-grind-unfriendly combat system.

Did I forget to mention how awesome the soundtrack is and how it was robbed by the Game Awards 2018? Okay, I’ll shut up now.

#2. Marvel’s Spider-Man

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I was a sceptic at first: can a Spider-Man truly be better than a sum of its parts? Well, it took me a couple more games on my “to-do” list like Red Dead 2 and Dragon Quest XI to make me realize that I only need 20 hours to gauge a game’s greatness.

Insomniac’s take on the web-slinger is not only better than past Spider-Man games -not exactly a feat you want to brag about- but it’s better than most of the action-adventure open world offerings out there. It’s big without being too daunting, it’s easy to control and navigate, it’s challenging when you want it to be (thank you New Game+ and Spectacular/Ultimate difficulty), and most importantly, it’s really fun to traverse the whole of New York as a do-gooder with spider-web gadgets and powers.

That last point is pretty darn important; I’ve never felt this much freedom, flexibility, and fun in an open world game since the previous Infamous and Prototype games. You know an open world game nails its controls and design so well when you forget there’s a fast travel option in the first place.

#1. God of War

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I gave Kakuchopurei’s first-ever 10/10 score to this masterpiece; how can I not put this first on my personal top 10? Next to Marvel’s Spider-Man, this one’s going in the best game history books because it took a rather shallow character (at least in God of War 2 & 3) and trite worn-out game style (perfected by the Bayonetta series; don’t bother contesting this) and turned it on its head.

Despite many people feeling reviewer’s remorse about this game, I do feel that the third-person camera shift and action pacing here makes sense if the Santa Monica team needed to do something outside of their comfort zone. And I applaud them for it. Not only is the combat meaty and fun while still retaining its challenge and flavour -albeit more on the defensive & parrying side this time around- it actually has a narrative worth a damn. I actually give a crap about Kratos and his son Atreus, as well as the talking head they carry around.

I don’t really have much to say except that my review pretty much says it all. This is a masterclass on how to make your triple-A game stand out.

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