Is the Noid really the villain this time? Or is he the true hero we all need?
Okay so last year for whatever reason I said that 2019 felt like it was ten years long, so I feel somewhat responsible for the millennia of a year that we were just subjected to. In terms of video games, this was a year where I continued my idealistic goal of becoming the JRPG goddess, and got heavy into both Atelier and the works of Nihon Falcom, so it was definitely extremely good! They also remade FF7 and the entirety of Greek mythology as well, which could also be considered a “big win” for the gamers!
Realistically, this was one of the more nihilistic years of my life, especially for video games. I’ve been used to the hell that is mainstream gaming for quite some time now, but there was something truly heinous about the back and forth over who gets praised or ridiculed this year. Watching Naughty Dog take home multiple awards (including a best studio win!) for their abuse of workers and the general bad vibes they’ve emitted over the year was incredibly depressing, and don’t even get me started on Cyberpunk.
Despite that though, things are looking better for the future. Workers are continuing to organize, more and more AAA gamers seem to be getting fed up with the status quo. And there’s a hotter indie market than ever before, with localization becoming more and more feasible for small teams to pull off and spread their ideas across the world. If I had one word of advice to impart before telling you what games I think are fire, it’s that taking a chance on a game you’ve barely heard about can be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make.
Also I’m a Vtuber now: this is what evolution looks like.
MINI LIST OF GAMES THAT DON’T PLACE SO THEY GET THEIR OWN AWARDS:
Most Unrestrained Developers Award: YS VIII
A Fine Dark Soul to You Award: Dark Souls 3 – The Ringed City
Best Edgelord Award: Code Vein
Worst Game That Wasn’t TLOU2 Award: Sino Alice
The Vergil Award: Devil May Cry 5 – Vergil DLC
The Mega Man Battle Network Memorial Award: One Step From Eden
The FFXIV Award: Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers Patch 5.3
10. Spelunky 2
There are a lot of problems with Spelunky 2, but when it succeeds it feels just as good as its predecessor. I really wish that I could have said “It feels even better than Spelunky at its best!” but then it wouldn’t be number ten here would it? I’m not saying it’s a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, it’s still quite good, but the overall game balance feels like it was made for people who were speedrunning around with eggplants in Spelunky for a year straight, rather than your more average Spelunky fan.
9. Genshin Impact
What if they made Breath of the Wild, but the developers actually cared about the world they were making, and didn’t think it was time to make offensive jokes or racist caricatures? That would be pretty good right? That would be one of the best games ever as long as they didn’t make it into a gach—
Jokes aside, Genshin Impact is really good. While it’s lacking in the puzzle department (which was one of the few areas of BOTW that I whole-heartedly adored), Genshin manages to perfect the groundwork laid by that last big Zelda game. The only reason it’s not higher on this list is that it’s also probably going to be responsible for an incredibly bad trend in games going forward, and it’s really hard for me to wholeheartedly endorse gacha as brutal as this as the years go on. Still though, the vibrant and colorful world that Mihoyo has created, and the all too rare view of genuine traditional Chinese aesthetics and ideas is a wonderful breath of fresh air in the open-world genre, and it gets better every day.
[8.] [13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim]
It’s really hard to put into words exactly why 13 Sentinels owns so much, but I’ll try my best regardless. Usually when games go for a nonlinear form of storytelling it either rips with some caveats, or just plain sucks, but 13 Sentinels manages to pretty much exclusively rip. It’s easily one of the most gorgeous games ever made as well, with even the more basic pared down combat graphics having its own sense of beauty. While the ending is a bit too heterosexual (derogatory) for my tastes, all of the characters are wonderful in their own way, and I loved getting to know each of them and all of their quirky mannerisms.
7. Yakuza: Like a Dragon
It’s the seventh Yakuza game, what else is there to say? They made it an RPG this time, which actually worked a lot better than I thought it would, and provided a great change of pace from the beat ‘em up genre the series had gotten really good at, then really bad at, then really good at again, then really bad at again (seriously what was up with that). I think it has some issues in terms of tonal consistency, but when you get down to it a JRPG about a bunch of 40 year olds is genuinely inspiring stuff. We need more media that showcases that life doesn’t end at like, 21, and Ichiban and his crew are wonderful in almost every way.
6. Nioh 2
Nioh 2 made everything about Nioh better by introducing two concepts:
- You’re a character-created Oni
- You’re a Blue Mage
With these two changes, and a tighter more focused design, Nioh 2 is easily one of the best action games ever made. If you fell off of the first game, I still recommend checking 2 out only by virtue of just how much Team Ninja managed to learn from their mistakes and deliver an absolute banger.
5. The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky
My New Years resolution for 2020 was to attempt getting through the entire Legend of Heroes series, as my first foray into Falcom games (a major blindspot in my JRPG knowledge base). 2020 turned out to be a lot more than we bargained for, and turning my plan into a more social experience with my girlfriend meant that it took a lot longer to finish even the first game than I thought it would, so now, over a year later, I’m still only just about a quarter of the way through the second game….in a ten-game series. Oops!
Trails in the Sky is this really incredible game about this stupid-as-rocks girl named Estelle, and politics in a faux 1800s fantasy Europe. If you’re looking for a classic JRPG feel, but aren’t keen on the works of Square Enix, I could not recommend a game more highly for you than this one. There’s something about its budget 2000’s PC aesthetic, and ye olde anime artstyle that’s just completely enthralling to me, and even with some colorful hair, the way each character looks like they could just be a person is a nice change of pace from, I don’t know, your Dragon Quest spiky Toriyama nightmare men.
The localization is also just downright incredible, with every NPC actually changing what they say to you after like, literally anything happens. That might sound overwhelming, but Trails in the Sky is so casual and easygoing that even when it’s intense, and the stakes are high, it’s really hard not to feel relaxed as you watch Estelle fuck around and make things worse, or better, or sometimes both. While the sequel is a lot better in several respects, I had to give this spot to the first game, if not only for it’s absolutely insane out of left field ending that completely redefines the entire trilogy.
When old men talk about being a child and seeing the Final Fantasy VI opera scene for the first time, being blown away by the future potential of games, I used to wonder if I had ever experienced a medium defining moment like that. Whether I’ve actually witnessed one or not, I can safely say that I am incredibly impressed by what Hades has managed to accomplish within a genre that always seemed like it would remain focused entirely on gameplay and mechanics. Not only did Supergiant games manage to make an incredibly fun roguelike with beautiful aesthetics and those hot Darren Korb tunes, they also somehow used blood magic to not only give a Roguelike a good story, but a story that works because of the cyclical nature of the genre.
The story of Hades might not be the most deep or complex, and it had a lot of existing literature to work off of with its Greek pantheon theming, but it’s still funny, poignant, and engaging in a way that I never thought a roguelike could be. Zagreus is an incredible lead, and every new god or creature you meet across your runs to escape the underworld are so colorful and unique that it was hard not to start jokingly quoting them in casual conversation. Plus, the game actually just has straight up normal polyamory, and while it is thematically appropriate to the source material, that alone would’ve been an A+ in my book anyway.
3. Final Fantasy VII: Remake
It’s Final Fantasy VII, but they remade it as a Yakuza game, but they also made the combat Sick As Hell!!!!!!! I am so glad that Square Enix used all the good juice they’ve been hiding in the Final Fantasy attic to make this game absolutely incredible from start to finish. They somehow managed to not only keep the insanely Bad-ut-ood 90’s feel of the original FF7, but also expand upon it and tweak it for a more modern and complex sensibility. While I’m not completely sold on its ending sequence, what it means for the future of Final Fantasy VII is incredibly exciting, and the fact that they made something as insane as that sequence with Zack Fair still makes me laugh far too much. Who knows when we’ll see Disc 2 of FF7 remade in incredible HD detail, but this game made me confident that when it’s here, it’ll fuckin’ rule.
2. Apex Legends
— Rosie Maria (@horngal) January 28, 2021
Oh no I like a battle royale game now.
Apex Legends is not a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, but for the first time since Halo I have been mesmerized by the pick up and play nature that Respawn is just so damn good at in all of their games. While Titanfall is still better, everything in Apex feels so tight and fast, and it’s probably the only class-based shooter I’ve played where it actually feels like everyone is balanced fairly with their own fun gimmicks and quirks. The amount of Apex I’ve played in the last few months has been honestly nuts, and if you had told me even a year ago that I’d be in the state I am today I’d say you’re crazy but unfortunately, here we are.
1. The House in Fata Morgana
The House in Fata Morgana has quickly risen the ranks to becoming my favorite Visual Novel of all time. While I knew that its story was one of Gothic Horror, a genre that is very easy to get me on board with, I wasn’t expecting just how hopeful and sympathetic it would be. This is a story about horrible things happening to people both good and bad, but what really struck me was that while it examines themes of understanding those who have done you wrong, it preaches just as much about how you don’t need to forgive them to be a good person. When dealing with stories of trauma and the heavier themes of torture and familial abuse, a message like this is exceptionally important to run at the forefront.
I struggle to dig deeper into the parts of this game that truly resonated with me, only because I really want more people to go into it without knowing just how it all goes down. This is a story of twists and turns, and minor but effective techniques that only a visual novel could pull off. It’s supported by a unique and detailed visual style, and some beautiful Portuguese music that really keeps the atmosphere of each individual scene stuck in your mind long after you’ve reached the end of this story. I’m incredibly thankful that some weirdos online got mad about the localization for this game earlier in the year, because it helped push me into finally getting into one of my all time favorite games.