Kenneth’s Top Five Games of 2019 and Other Nonsense

I've never liked ten games at the same time.

I started 2019 as a college student in my eighth (8) year of trying to finish my undergrad degree in Journalism, and spent a lot of it in a miserable state of working in local news where I felt unfulfilled, unappreciated, and barely making enough money to scrape by. Then in September I started here at Fanbyte as the weekend reporter and have gotten to write some fun stuff for all you lovely folks reading. So in my final weekend of 2019 I’ve got a list of the five games that stuck out to me most this year, along with five others that, for their own individual reasons, didn’t make the cut.

Old Game of the Year: Overwatch

If you were to look at what game occupied most of my time in 2019, both from play time and the time I spent writing about it, it’s Overwatch. But since the game is from 2016 it doesn’t get to be on the official list. Gotta love those technicalities.

I’m a simple man to please, so all I needed from Overwatch to get interested was a gay character to play as in Soldier: 76. With that my interest was piqued and I ended up spending over 300 hours with the game over the course of the year. It was a year of not only learning how to play, but also experiencing the barebones lore, and catching up on three years worth of discourse. It took me 12 months, but I feel like I finally have a grasp on the state of the game, and despite my realizing there might be no game in the world that has a more confused identity, I feel like I could easily dedicate another 300 hours to it in 2020. With every major development I’m learning more about Blizzard’s team-based shooter, and the more I learn the more I realize that what drew me in might not be Blizzard’s priority, but I’ll at least give it until Overwatch 2 before I make that call.

Game I didn’t finish and probably never will: Fire Emblem: Three Houses

With apologies to my boyfriend Claude Von Riegan, but I got like 40 hours into your game and then a time skip happened, which, as I understand it, means I’m halfway through Fire Emblem: Three Houses. I liked my time with my first Fire Emblem quite a bit, but good lord do games have to be so long? I really did want to find out what was going to happen after it jumped forward five years and all my favorite Golden Deer students reunited to kill their other classmates in a war. I really did. But I’m afraid I’ve been away for so long I may never go back. I’ve got other games to play too, you know? *immediately boots up Overwatch again*

Game I can’t play until next year: Disco Elysium

Disco Elysium, my laptop only runs well enough for me to write for this here Fanbyte period com with minimal hassle, so please come to PlayStation 4 as early as you possibly can in 2020 so I can play you and see what all the fuss is about. 

With expected love,
Kenneth Shepard.

Game I wished I liked enough to put on the real list: Kingdom Hearts III

I liked Kingdom Hearts III fine, I guess. But despite being the conclusion to a story over 17 years in the making I think about it remarkably little. I love Riku, Mickey, and yeah I guess I care about Sora and the rest of them too, but the actual conclusion to the Kingdom Hearts lore felt so rushed and haphazard by the end that I wasn’t particularly satisfied with it. Maybe the Re:Mind DLC will help, but I’m not holding my breath.

Also, the Frozen world was so bad. Please Kingdom Hearts IV, do not touch Frozen II.

Game I wish came out in 2019 so it could be at the top of my list: Sly Cooper 5

Shut up. Don’t look at me.

And now for the actual list:

5. Ring Fit Adventure

More than probably any other video game I’ve played (in 2019 or beyond), Ring Fit Adventure’s first few hours of play are so painful that it was enough to make me want to quit. Of course, I mean literally painful, as the turn-based RPG meets exercise routine nearly had me bed-ridden after I’d played it just once. But now, I’m over 40 days in to playing through it, and I feel worse on days I don’t get around to it than I do when I’ve taken part in the high intensity workout it offers. Even after getting through the holidays and being force fed more food than I’d eat in a week in a couple days, Ring Fit Adventure has kept me grounded, committed, and seeing progress in ways that no other attempt at regular exercise has. It’s probably not going to make me a bodybuilder, but it has changed my life in an incredibly positive way, even when it’s getting on my nerves.

4. Afterparty

The trouble with writing about a work like Afterparty is that sometimes the ways in which games, movies, books, whatever it is, affect us can be so personal that telling the masses about it can veer into oversharing. Generally, I don’t have a problem baring my soul to explain what makes something meaningful and affecting to me, but Afterparty is different in that the specifics of why this game struck me the way it did is not my story to tell. Night School Studio’s depiction of the biblical version of the afterlife is filled to the brim with questions of what makes a person good, and a lot of that is tied to what you’re willing to do to escape Hell and return to your previous life. But Afterparty’s late game reveals about Satan delves into his alcoholism, how it affects the people around him, and how the journey to recovery isn’t a straight line. This game didn’t necessarily elicit positive feelings or memories, but it made me feel things I had been suppressing and made me reckon with them in a way I had tried not to. I still am, really,. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been necessary, and for that I’m grateful to Afterparty.

3. Pokemon Sword & Shield

Pokemon as a franchise has been really hitting the spot for me lately. Since last year’s Detective Pikachu game, I’ve felt a connection to it I haven’t felt since probably Diamond & Pearl came out on the original DS. Let’s Go Pikachu had me fully invested in a Pokemon RPG again, then the Detective Pikachu movie was pretty much everything I could have asked for (other than a decent final act). So by the time Sword & Shield came out, I was all in to explore a new region and just exist in the Pokemon universe like I hadn’t in over a decade. It came with some major changes, some that hit me at exactly the right time in my life to make them feel meaningful. But it also felt like one of the first Pokemon games in a long time that appealed to my mid-20’s self. I’d spent so long feeling like Pokemon was too simple for me that to have one that felt overwhelming was kind of refreshing. Exploring the vast wild area with powerful Pokemon to fight and capture and other trainers walking around on their own journeys made the world feel more alive than it ever had. I still haven’t seen every corner of the Galar region, but I’m excited to see what else it has in store for me, even after seeing its story through.

2. Telling Lies

Sam Barlow’s Telling Lies has been one of the more challenging games to describe to people in my years of writing about video games because it is one of the most singular experiences I’ve ever played. It hands you hours of footage to search through with zero context or goals. It doesn’t push any one story line or character as most important, but you only have so long to search through them, so the onus is on you to decide what’s most important and focus on it. That ambiguous storytelling in a game that’s entirely defined by your own priorities makes Telling Lies different for everyone who plays it. The only time I played Telling Lies I found the only answer I was looking for exactly one video before my time was up. If I had searched for any number of specific words and terms I could have found it in my first hour, but if I hadn’t searched for the right phrase in that moment I would have missed it entirely. Feeling that sense of clarity and realizing I was moments away from missing it was more satisfying than beating any difficult boss or any replay-worthy play of the game I experienced this year. It also assured me I didn’t need to pick it up ever again. I got what I came for without a moment to spare, and it stayed with me for the rest of the year.

1. Life is Strange 2

When Life is Strange 2’s first episode launched last year, it had one line that I didn’t expect to become such a focal point of Dontnod’s episodic series, but it turned out it was essentially a thesis for the entire game: “everything is political.” In five episodes, Life is Strange 2 manages to poignantly capture how the state of current U.S. politics can upheave the lives of two Mexican-American boys, all with the series’ signature supernatural twists. In an era where developers and a loud portion of the industry’s audience are adamant that politics have no place in this medium, Dontnod not only pushes back against that notion, but pulls no punches in its criticism of racism, weaponized patriotism, religion-driven homophobia, police brutality, and how Sean and Daniel Diaz must fight against all of the above as they attempt to leave the country. 

Life is Strange 2’s journey from Seattle to the border is a reminder that this country is broken, and that the people who are hurt the most by it seldom get a voice to stand against it. While the Diaz brothers may not have had the power to fix it all, they could at least find solace in one another as they tried to break free of it. The entire series eloquently combines player choice, brotherhood, and fearless condemnation of the systems in place to keep marginalized people marginalized to make something empowering in a time when I feel like I can’t do anything to make things better. I may not be able to fix Trump’s America, but I was able to help the Diaz brothers escape it. And for that it’s become intrinsically tied to a time in my life where I’m still learning the ways I can fight in the real world, and is my favorite game of 2019.

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Kenneth Shepard

Kenneth is a Georgia-based writer who still periodically cries about the Mass Effect trilogy years after it concluded.

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