<a very long, disgusted sigh>
I mean, at least there were some good games in 2020.
But first, some housekeeping:
Old Game of the Year:
Best Game I Played Like Two-Fifths Of:
Best Game That Lost The Plot:
Best Game I Suck At:
Best "I Don't Know...This Is Fine...<Looks At The Camera And Shrugs Unceremoniously>" Game:
Best Use Of Hatsune Miku:
Best Game That Is Not As Good As Resident Evil 2:
Best "Wait, Is This What Animal Crossing Is? Oh...Oh......" Game:
Best Game I Stopped Playing After I Got Sidetracked When I Foolishly Decided To Play Through Final Fantasy VII Remake, Persona 5: Royal, The Last of Us Part II, and Fire Emblem: Three Houses Back-To-Back:
2020's Unofficial Eleventh Best Game Of The Year:
Best Games I Didn't / Barely(*) Played:
- Demon's Souls
- Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout(*)
- Ori and the Will of the Wisps(*)
- Paradise Killer
- Tell Me Why
- The Longing(*)
- Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1+2
- Troubleshooter: Abandoned Children(*)
Runners Up (Unranked):
- Animal Crossing: New Horizons
- Deep Rock Galactic
- Doom Eternal
- Frog Fractions GotDE - Hop's Iconic Cap
- Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Mega Mix
- Kentucky Route Zero
- Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales
- Resident Evil 3
- Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore
Game Of The Year:
This is technically a 2020 game, but...you know...This game is old. And I sure did play around 160 hours of Persona 5: Royal, which accounted for about a month of my free time this summer. But a similar thing happened to me back in 2017.
With Persona 3: Portable and Persona 4: Golden, there were tweaks made to the game that sold it as an overall upgrade, which made those versions the definitive Persona 3 and Persona 4 experiences. With Persona 5: Royal, since the original game was already a masterpiece in a lot of ways, it’s not quite that night and day comparison. There’s no “Oh my god, you can control your party members, so now Mitsuru will stop casting Marin Karin on everything” equivalent with Royal. This time around, we’re talking about an exceptional game getting fine tuned and a new ending.
That’s not to say Persona 5: Royal isn’t worth it. In case there was any doubt, it is indeed the best way to play Persona 5, if you haven’t already. However, when I talk to people who thought Persona 5 was already a tremendously long game and they ask me if it’s worth it to go through all of Persona 5 again to see the new stuff, it’s honestly a hard sell.
It’s still Persona 5. It was my GOTY of 2017 and one of the best games I played in 2020. But it also feels like I’m cheating putting it on my list again. So I’m letting Persona 5: Royal float out here in the abyss, simultaneously included and not included on this list.
10) Astro's Playroom
This game is just a delight. While some Nintendo stuff in recent years felt shallow to me (glances over at Super Mario Odyssey), Astro’s Playroom is filled with joy. It’s a beautiful game, with catchy music, and a heck of a lot of charm. For a pack-in game for the PS5 designed to celebrate the history of PlayStation, this game is surprisingly fun. I seriously hope Sony gives the Astro Bot team a blank check for whatever they want to to do next.
Also, the haptic feedback has to be experienced for yourself. At a certain point in the game where it is raining, I stopped playing the game so I could relax while “feeling” the rain fall. While the Dual Sense can do a ton of unique things, that moment made me wish I had some meditation app or some chill Laid-Back Camp-esque experience for me to unwind to.
It feels like there are a billion deck building games now, but this is the first one that grabbed my attention in a post-Slay the Spire world. In Monster Train, being able to upgrade your hero and minion cards, dealing with multiple play fields, and being able to pull cards from two decks really makes this an inventive deck building game.
While I probably overall enjoyed Slay the Spire more and wish there were some things that were tightened up about this game, like having a faster way to end battles without fast forwarding the game speed by a thousand, there’s a lot in Monster Train I like more. I’m not sure if there are plans to add new stuff through updates or if they will ever release an expansion, but I would love to see more from this type of deck building.
Crusader Kings III is a forever game. When I look at it, I think “Sure, you could spend a thousand hours playing this”. So far, I’ve only spent 30 or so hours with it.
That first play through (plus a handful of hours fumbling through tutorials) was some of the most fascinating storytelling experiences I had with a game in a long time. It’s a strategy game where when things took a turn for the worse, it was exhilarating. When my first kingdom was coming to an end, it was gripping. It’s one of the few games that made me think, “Aww shit, this sucks...This is awesome!” And the few fleeting moments where everything was going my way, I felt like one of the great tactioners.
I absolutely love Crusader Kings III, but I also haven’t seen that much of it in the grand scheme of things, especially when you factor in how I got a game over long before I reached the end game with my first kingdom. To use an apples and oranges comparison, it’s like trying to review Civilization after just one match. I’m also not sure I want this to take over my life, so I’ll probably only play Crusader Kings like every six months or so. With that said, this is still a hell of a game.
There's so many things I like about Spiritfarer, I'm trying to figure out how to talk about this game without coming up with a twenty item long bullet point list. What I will say instead is this game just works. The farming, the sailing, the emotional journey that reflects on life and death. Some characters I did not gravitate to as much as others and the game is arguably too long in spots. At the same time, there are some really beautiful sequences, particularly with all of the departures, and a few hard hitting moments--Uncle Atul disappearing is probably the biggest thing that got me.
Before I start to ramble, I'll just say this is a beautiful and fun game you should try for yourself.
Most of what I have to say about The Last of Us Part II is in this blog I wrote last year, so I’ll keep this short.
In truth, this would be higher on my list if this game brought back the multiplayer mode from the first game (yeah, I’m that guy) and if I played through the game again. The reason why I didn’t immediately jump back into The Last of Us Part II like I wanted to was because of how sad the game made me (again, read the blog for why that is if you’re curious). Since then, I think I have accepted what that ending does and would be warmer to it if I experienced that story again. That said, I have not done that yet.
Those two points aside, The Last of Us Part II is one of the most immersive games I played in 2020 and it is nonetheless an incredible achievement.
Back in my 2017 GOTY blog, I had a random comment about how I had a hard time picking a Game Of The Year. I could have made an argument for any of my top three games--Yakuza 0, NieR:Automata, and Persona 5--actually my GOTY. Well, in 2020 I have a similar problem. However, instead of a couple of games, it's half my list.
I keep starring at this list of games and I just can't make up my mind, because they are all so good! The slightest nudge could push any of these games up or down the list. Instead of dreading on the order of these games 'til the end of time, I'm just going to talk about the games as they are currently ranked.
5) Destiny 2: Beyond Light
Beyond Light is some of the best Destiny stuff I have played. Forsaken probably is still the overall best expansion, since it is more consistent throughout and doesn't rely on backtracking as much as Beyond Light does towards the later parts of that story. That said, Europa is arguably my favorite location in all of Destiny 2. While Forsaken had the better overall campaign that helped teach me why I would do all of these different stuff I see on the map, Beyond Light and the various seasonal content introduced this year, including the Prophecy dungeon, taught me why I should keep coming back to Destiny as an ongoing live service game.
Now, since I have you here, I'm just going to talk about Destiny 2 in general.
While I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Beyond Light and the other ongoing seasonal content Bungie released in 2020, there’s also a significant time and place factor for Destiny. You see, living in the United States over the past handful of years has kinda been a nightmare. And then you throw a pandemic on top of that mess. Fairly early on during the lockdown I thought, “Hey, I should play Destiny again, so I have some stuff to do with people”.
Fast forward a bit and that nudged me towards a lot of the late game content, which I honestly never thought I would experience. I ended up doing the secret Zero Hour and The Whisper quests. That eventually led to me being carried through Scourge of the Past, which is considered one of the more beginner friendly raids. After that, I ran through Last Wish and Crown of Sorrow.
Then all three Dungeons: Pit of Heresy, The Shattered Throne, and Prophecy.
I also went through Dog Bottom, right before it was vaulted.
In between all of that, I went down a rabbit hole of old seasonal content, like The Menagerie, and a bunch of exotic quests I never finished, including a mad dash through Garden of Salvation to get Divinity.
All of that culminated into doing the Beyond Light raid, Deep Stone Crypt, blind with a squad of people the weekend it was released. While all of the raids I've gone through are fun and among the best content in Destiny, there is a difference between being held by the hand and not understanding half of the mechanics and fumbling around with something you do not understand, learning mechanics and encounters on the fly. Why did this basement catch on fire? Why did this boss just squash me? Why is half the team suddenly in outer space? Why did we all die? All of these questions and more you will ask yourself over the next 16 hours!!
At the time of this note, I have cleared Deep Stone Crypt 17 times over approximately 45 hours. I've played and enjoyed this raid alone more than a lot of the games on this list. While it is arguably the best thing I have experienced in Destiny alongside Last Wish , it is also the most fun I had doing something in this game.
Destiny ended up providing me a sense of normalcy in the 2020 shit storm. It was a game I could spend as much or as little time as I wanted with it. It was a game that gave me enough new stuff to do and plenty of backlog content to explore. It helped give me something to do with people as I continued to self isolate and wonder to myself when I will ever see my friends and family again. For all of those reasons, Destiny 2 in the year 2020 is one of the best games I’ve played this year.
Hey! Here's the perfect picture to summarize 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim!
Jokes aside, one of the reasons that makes the game so special is how dense it is. I can tell you crazy things that will sound like major spoilers, when it is something that happens in the first couple hours and is relatively mundane compared to the bat shittery that's right around every corner. If you listened to the spoiler discussions regarding 13 Sentinels during the Giant Bomb GOTY Deliberations, there is a lot more that Jan and Vinny didn't have time to talk about.
The fact that the game can keep this bonkers story held together without spinning apart is an accomplishment. It is one of the most well crafted, intertwining stories I have seen in a game in a long time. 13 Sentinels also taps into just about every science fiction trope you can think of while making it its own thing. The game also does a stellar job of giving all of these characters depth and room to grow. There is even one of my favorite LGBT stories I've seen in a game in god knows how long. When the credits rolled, I cared for all fifteen main characters in this story and thought they delivered on everything they setup.
By the way, the art in this game is gorgeous and the mech tower defense is also pretty fun.
I sincerely hope this is the future of the Yakuza series. For the first time this team made a game like this and for how they apparently changed course mid-development to turn this into an RPG, this turned out pretty damn great. Some things are janky, like how your party can be thirty feet away from the enemies you are attacking or how some characters will charge straight at their targets even if they are around the corner, making them run straight into a wall until the game warps them to where they need to be. At the same time, that also leads to moments like your drunk knuckleheaded friends charging into bike racks, kicking a dozen bikes into the air, whooping people's asses, kicking them into the street, and watching them get run over by cars. Beyond the battle system, the RPG mechanics being translated to the personality stat traits that you can level up by doing the random side activities gives you more of a reason to engage with those mini-games.
The sincere melodrama, the badass over-the-topness, and dumb as shit side bits are all here as well. Apart of me thinks Yakuza 0 may deliver on this balance better, but I'm honestly not sure if that's because I was experiencing Yakuza for the first time. That said, it is all still great, even when one specific late game reveal--how there was not one, but two coin locker babies--is a real eye rolling moment.
The one other thing that Yakuza: Like a Dragon does exceptionally well setting the story around Kasuga Ichiban and having it keep coming back to making your own place in the world. The earnestness this game presents friendship between these bunch of outcasts warms my soul. There are certain touches I hope other games like Persona steal. When I saw the final scene play out, I couldn't help but wonder what will happen to Ichiban and Company next. Whether or not they continue with his story, by itself Yakuza: Like a Dragon is an amazing game from top to bottom.
To be honest, I played Final Fantasy VII Remake more out of obligation than anything else. This game was rumored for almost a decade and took another four or five years to come out after they announced it. I enjoyed the original Final Fantasy VII at the time, but it wasn’t even my favorite Final Fantasy. As the years went on, my knowledge started to dwindle to the point where my memories outside of certain key moments boil down to a scientist turning into a monster man, Cloud gets on a motorcycle, and there’s something called Jenova. That’s all the more reason why I was surprised why I loved this game so much.
Within the first two or three battles, I was sold on the combat, which only got better the more you played it. In a lot of ways, it felt like Square Enix took all the lessons they’ve learned over the past decade from Final Fantasy XIII through Final Fantasy XV, refined it all into this one game, and executed on it far better than what I imagined. It is now arguably one of my all-time favorite RPG battle systems.
Final Fantasy VII Remake also has one of the most memorable cast of characters this year. This game spent so much time developing Jessie, I had to ask multiple people if this was all new stuff or if I completely forgot about what role they had in the original game. Over the course of the game, everybody from AVALANCHE to Tifa to Aerith gets their own time to shine.
It is not “most RPG” at a modest 40 or so hours long, but it is arguably one of the better ones because it is so focused on this one part of the larger Final Fantasy VII story. Some games I’ve played this year like Persona 5: Royal and Yakuza: Like A Dragon felt like eating at a buffet. There were times when I simultaneously thought “I’m having a great time” and “Dude, there’s too much stuff in this game”. A lot of RPGs get bloated under the weight of it all. On the other hand, Final Fantasy VII Remake felt just right. It was long enough for things to stay fresh, but not long enough to make you contemplate your life choices.
Now here’s hoping we don’t have to wait another 18 years for Part II.
Read what Ron Funches had to say. No finer description of Hades exists.
In terms of what hasn’t been said a billion times, I was surprised by the replayability with regards to the story. From finding out why Zagreus wants to escape hell, to learning more about his family’s history, to reaching the epilogue, there was always something that kept my interest for 90 hours. Even setting the big story stuff aside, I wanted to learn more about Patroclus, patch things up with Megaera, and chat with Eurydice. On top of that, it is staggering how much writing there is in Hades and how long it took me to start seeing more generic lines of dialogue.
While there are stories I enjoyed more this year, the writing made me want to keep seeing what Hades had to offer, long after my first successful clear.