Nadia Oxford’s Top 10 Games of 2019: Dragons, Dragons, Rock the Dragons

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Another year, another mighty butt-load of RPGs under my belt. The doctor says I need to get more variety in my gaming diet before I excrete dragons on a daily basis. What do doctors know?

Since you already scanned my list of favorites for the year—I know you did, don’t lie—you likely noticed there are a couple of games that are technically from 2018 taking up real estate here. It’s fine; since these lists are comprised of our personal game picks for the year, we’re allowed to include older games we only got around to in 2019. I’m happy about that caveat, since it’s not always possible to get around to playing a game the second it drops. We shouldn’t turn away from critically-acclaimed games just because they’re yesterday’s news.

This is my convoluted way of admitting I’m sometimes late to the video game hype party. Well, I was born two weeks late, so I’ll just say the delay is very on-brand for me.

Here’s what caught my heart this year:

  1. Dragon Quest Builders 2
  2. Red Dead Redemption 2
  3. Fire Emblem: Three Houses
  4. Sayonara Wild Hearts
  5. Dragon Quest 11 S
  6. Pokemon Sword/Shield
  7. Final Fantasy 14
  8. Luigi’s Mansion 3
  9. Link’s Awakening
  10. Trails of Cold Steel 3

The squad’s all here. | Square Enix

2019 brought along its share of difficulties, but I can’t complain too much about a year that gave us not one, but two Dragon Quest games. I’ve been waiting on Dragon Quest Builders 2 for a long time (the first Dragon Quest Builders was my favorite game in 2016), and I love it to pieces. Most of the quibbles I had with the first game are fixed through some solid quality of life improvements, and then Square Enix piled a whole lot of great new content on top of the experience. There are new kingdoms to save, scavenger hunts to engage in, and a huge island to build and populate to your tastes. Bring on Dragon Quest Builders 3 and the Dragon Quest 3-centric story that’ll probably drive it.

Dragon Quest 11 S also earns a shout out even though it’s a port of last year’s Dragon Quest 11. Square Enix went above and beyond bringing this epic RPG to the Switch: There’s new quests, new story content, an orchestrated soundtrack, additional voice acting, the works. I’m still amazed such a huge game was squeezed onto the Switch with minimal compromise. This is indeed the definitive version of Dragon Quest 11, and that’s not something I get to say about Switch games every day.

I kicked off the year playing Red Dead Redemption 2 for the first time. I didn’t intend to fall in love with Arthur Morgan’s Sad Cowboy story, but oops. Maybe it helps that my play session lined up with a weird, difficult time in my life, but it’s also just a good game with wonky shooting mechanics. (I got used to ’em.) Speaking of games about war and strife wearing people down into nubs of their former selves, Fire Emblem: Three Houses got a lot of playtime from me this year. It’s a great debut for the series on the Switch, and a great return to form for a series that strayed a bit with its last 3DS release. I expect I’ll be playing Three Houses well into 2020 too, since I haven’t finished the Blue Lion or Black Eagle paths. Watch for a repeat appearance on next year’s “Best Of” list! Well, no guarantee, but who knows.

I loved the heckin’ heck out of Sayonara Wild Hearts, which now ranks as one of my favorite rhythm games of all time—until the next Rhythm Heaven game comes out, of course. Please get on that, Nintendo. I also fell in love with Pokemon Sword and Shield, even though all the poisonous discourse around the game had me convinced I’d hate it. No, it’s not the fanciest-looking game on the Switch, but I still clocked a whole bunch of hours into running around the Wild Area, battling friends, battling foes, and just having a good time. Cheers to the Galar region. Can’t wait to see what’s next.

My next “Why Didn’t You Get to this Sooner, Nadia?” entry is Final Fantasy 14. I don’t mean the Shadowbringer expansion either, I mean I only started A Realm Reborn for the first time late this year. I am thoroughly in love. I acknowledge that MMORPGs aren’t for everyone, but at the same time I can’t help but love how easy it is to stray from the main story path. Like, “Eh, I’m tired of investigating this mystery cult that’s sacrificing women to a dark god. Time to become a botanist and chop trees for ten hours.”

Luigi’s Mansion 3 and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening were both there for me when I needed a couple of games to let me retread some familiar ground without making me feel too sure about my footing. The vacuuming and ghost-wrangling physics in Luigi’s Mansion 3 feel better than ever, and re-visiting Link’s Awakening on the Switch reminds me how wonderful the game’s puzzles are despite the original Link’s Awakening being decades old. Some people still swear by the original Game Boy release, but I think the Switch version is superior simply for not forcing you to balance Link’s entire inventory between two buttons.

Finally, Trails of Cold Steel 3 gets a nod and a wave as I see everyone out the door for 2019. The Trails series isn’t a showcase of innovation and new ideas, but it never tries to be. It’s a saga that tells a long, complex narrative using a familiar cast of characters. Trails 3 blurs more than a few lines: enemies become allies, friends become enemies, and it all feels surprisingly genuine because Trails 3 emphasizes there isn’t much “good” or “bad” in the world. There’s just war and politics.

So ends another year. 2020 is already looking exciting with the arrival of Final Fantasy 7 Remake and Bravely Default 2. Will my “Best Of” list next year contain any of the games we’re anticipating right now? You’ll have to tune in next December to find out for sure. Please look forward to it.

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