Only games I played for the first time this year are included.
I didn't spend much time to grind STG this year, and for the time being, I'm on a forced hiatus. I got into something new that I never would've expected instead: Visual novels.
The first reason I picked up a visual novel was because I had watched the anime Oreimo, which I hated, but I really liked Kuroneko, so I decided to play a game featuring her, the PSP game Oreimo. It was surprisingly enjoyable, but it didn't exactly have good writing, it just had fun gameplay and overall just clicked with me. That's when I decided I wanted to play at least some visual novel that was actually supposed to have good writing and see where that takes me. Well, I really didn't expect to read like 30 VNs in half a year...
So, that is why this entry has a lot of visual novels. I think I've had a pretty good streak with them, so I'm assuming there's many excellent ones left to find. If you are uninterested in visual novels, you can scroll down to the games below them. Just keep in mind that I used to assume visual novels were something I would never like and I was wrong.
Symphonic Rain (All ages)
A slow burner, but let it consume you and you will be deeply rewarded. There's not much point in trying to talk about it, because its many qualities are hidden away and you must play it and find out for yourself. A very moving game in the second half.
Saya no Uta (Eroge)
A great love story at its core. This novel is helped tremendously by the godlike soundtrack and the effective use of CGs. The writing is generally very good, although also the biggest problem with the work. It has a bit too much focus on exposition, and the minor characters behave pretty stupidly. I also wish it spent more time during its first half. Too flawed to be a masterpiece, but still an essential game I think.
This sure is amazing for a moe-trash game. Kohane's, Aoi's and Tzuzumi's routes are excellent. It's simply a happy, joyous game with delicious art by legendary H-artist Ooyari Ashito.
Katawa Shoujo (Eroge...?)
I'm a big fan of this game for one reason: Rin's route. I feel that many people will just misunderstand this route and interpret it on a simple surface-level, so try to pay attention if you're playing it. The other routes are OK, but if it weren't for Rin, I wouldn't care that much about this game.
Steins;Gate (All ages)
I think it's overall a good babby's first VN (though it was my 4th or so). Everything in it is just on point, the writing is interesting and ties together well with some of its characterization, the unique art style is appealing at least to me, and it has great tunes. The gameplay is a bit too obtuse, so you'll need a guide for this game. Unfortunately, Steins;Gate had some pretty bad things too, like the Faris arc.
Kikokugai - The Cyber Slayer (Eroge)
This is just a very enjoyable cyberpunk/wuxia novel. It caught me off guard, I didn't expect it to be this good. It's a badass masculine game with some fun edgy pretentions on the side.
Rewrite (All ages)
A strange game. very strange. Too long. There's so much to say. So many flaws to point out. I'll just say that for all its flaws, the good parts really stick with you, and if anything, it's very interesting thematically. Oh, and Chihaya's route can fuck off.
Ever17 - The Out of Infinity (All ages)
This game is a bit difficult to judge for me. On one hand, the common route and the first route I did (Tsugumi's) was an unforgettable experience (much thanks to the brilliant sense of mystique and powerful emotions) but on the other hand, the farther into the game I got, the more I started to feel disappointed. Unlike everyone else, I honestly didn't care for the true route at all.
999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (All ages?)
Similar to Ever17. Too similar, in fact. Looking past that, it's obviously a very good game, but not quite as good as Ever17.
Swan Song (Eroge)
A great game that was surprisingly not as depressing as I expected. It's quite well rounded. It's not a perfect game, but I really liked it.
Yume 2kki (Exploring)
It's a fan-game of Yume Nikki. I loved that game, and this one is just as good, if not better, considering how much bigger it is. I can talk a bit about how the two games are different and how it becomes a bit awkward to try and compare them, but let's just say that I love both. Yume Nikki is a bit more of a personal experience while Yume 2kki's strength over Nikki is its sheer size. I think it is a good idea to play Yume Nikki first, for a number of reasons, so don't jump into this one blindly.
The most wonderfully surrealist game I've encountered. Despite some more problematic aspects, I think it is one of the best games I've played. It is just about precisely to my taste. The prettiest game ever, in fact.
Another game by the creator of Middens. This one is a bit more straight forward, but almost as good. A lovely psychedelic experience with moving dreamy contents at the end.
One of the finest speedgames I've come across. sivade's gameplay is mindblowing.
Mother 3 (RPG)
Of course I had high expectations for Mother 3, it has a reputation of being one of the best games ever by people who I think could be somewhat trusted on that matter. I felt like the game lived up to the hype, considering I'm not very fond of JRPGs. It's not one of the best games I've played, but it is absolutely solid, much thanks to such a memorable end-game, and it compares favorably to EarthBound in my opinion.
Labyrinth of Touhou (RPG)
The gameplay during bosses is exactly what I want out of an RPG. Absolutely perfection. Unfortunately, the game has a lot of flaws elsewhere. I generally really like dungeon crawling, despite my limited experience, but they really need to put a limit on how much XP you can get. I had to intentionally stay low leveled to have fun with this game. You will actually gain levels faster and faster the longer you grind.
A fantastic grid-based puzzle game where you match UFOs, featuring Sanae. Although the game is incredible, I'm very uncomfortable with the mouse control, and I don't know if it's the games fault or my hands fault. It honestly hurts my hand to play this game. If it doesn't hurt your hand, count yourself lucky, because the gameplay is bliss.
The Cat Lady (Point and click)
A great character-driven horror adventure with a fantastic visual style. It has some shortcomings, but overall it is highly recommended.
Gundemonium Recollection (STG)
I fell in love with this STG right away. The question is how fun it will remain during a scoreplay, since I've reluctantly quit STG (hopefully temporarily. I simply can't play in my current state) I might never find out. So, the placement is a little awkward, because I only played it for about 2 hours.
Toilet in Wonderland (Parody)
I went through a spree of playing through a bunch of horror RPGmaker games. Those were mostly rather mediocre, so finding this gem was a breath of fresh air. It's a parody of those kinds of games, and it's hilarious. You're going to want to play games in the style of Witch's House or Mad Father before jumping into this one to get a sense of context.
My 3 "must-plays" are: Yume 2kki, Middens, & Symphonic Rain. The rest are honorable mentions.