2020. It was a year. Kind of a bad one. I don't mean this to sound flippant, so much as I don't know how else to say it. But I'll try not to linger on it, aside from a little bit of reflection on my own writing over the year.
Which, if you're reading this you probably noticed, but I wrote a lot fewer blogs this year than I usually would. There's a couple reasons for that. One is that I've been trying to not force myself to write about everything I play, because I often don't have anything all that interesting to say. And if I'm being totally honest, 2020 was a bit of a lackluster year for games. Not to say there weren't plenty of good games, but not too much in the way of things that really compelledme to write about them. To really sink my teeth in, and think about why it was that I liked it so much, or disliked it so much. For example, there was no Death Stranding this year. No game that was just so bizarre, yet I couldn't put it down, despite the story being such a befuddling mess.
But the real, main reason I didn't write as much is that this awful year just sapped my will to write. So much so that games that I probably could have written something worthwhile about, I just didn't. Or in one case (Hades), I did write something, but was so dissatisfied with the result that I told myself I'd start it over again and give it another shot, but didn't. If you're wondering why I didn't post what I wrote about Hades, I'll be quick and say that I realized I am woefully unequipped to write seriously about a story about trying to escape an abusive household.
And, one more note. Despite my repeated, best efforts, as of this writing I've been unable to get my hands on a PlayStation 5. I want one, you bet your sweet butt I do! But I just haven't been quick enough on the draw, and I would never even consider horribly over-paying to get one from a scalper.
So, that also means a bunch of games I really could have played on my PS4, I didn't because I want to see them in their next (now current) gen glory. Miles Morales, AC Valhalla, even Bugsnax. But that last one is mostly because I refuse to buy the PS4 version if I have access to the PS5 one via PS+. I know I'll love Miles Morales when I eventually get around to it, and I'm sure I would have had a great time on PS4, but it'll have to wait, and you'll have to wait to see my thoughts!
If nothing else, I'm here now, giving The Moosies my all! Thank you for reading, and giving my opinions the time of day.
As is usual, now that my preamble is almost over, it is time to look back upon my predictions for 2020 from last year, and see how wrong I was. Imagine just how wrong I usually am, and applying that to this atrocious wild card of a year.
Half-Life Alyx delayed at least once more before release.
I don't even remember. Was there a delay between December of 2019 and whenever it actually released? I don't know! I do think it's interesting, if not surprising, how this game just came and went. New Half-Life after so long, and almost no one played it because it was designed exclusively for higher end versions of tech that very few people (relatively) have. That's not a criticism, something usually can't make the most of out new technology if it has to support wildly different other stuff too (in this case not-VR stuff), but it's just interesting, is all. At least the people who did play it seemed to like it, so I'm glad it was good.
Xbox Series X has a mini-fridge built into it.
This didn't happen, but given that they actually made a full sized fridge that looks like a Series X, I'll say this was correct enough.
Nintendo announces the Switch Liter, which is just a slightly smaller version of the Switch Lite. Still does not drop the price on the regular sized Switch.
Thankfully not, but this is just reminding me of all the (sounding substantive) rumors of a Switch Pro coming next year, that all started about a month after I bought my Switch. And now I'm feeling grumpy because I could have waited another year...
The same Mario Kart 8 bundle returns in time for Black Friday at the same price.
I think this did happen. Maybe they were also coming with a year of Nintendo's online subscription or something??
Bayonetta 3 finally shown for real. She has a new hairdo.
Bayonetta 3 is not real. This game is never coming out, and will quietly be forgotten. Sadly.
Still no F-Zero.
Sometimes I hate being right.
Halo Infinite is, in fact, finite.
Halo Infinite is, in fact, delayed a full year (probably), so who knows!
Whatever attempt is made to get people interested in Anthem again...does not work.
I've heard promising things from the screenshots of some changes being made in Anthem Next, but... I can't say it's easy to feel good about BioWare as a whole at the moment. Especially after Casey Hudson leaving. Again. I just want BioWare to make great games like they used to. And to have good working conditions. Obviously.
Bluepoint Games' remaster is not, as people suspect, Demon's Souls, but instead...Tokyo Jungle.
This is a case where I'm glad to have been proven wrong. It's good that more people have gotten to play Demon's Souls. Besides, after some of the changes made (Cat Ring icon, Sticky White Stuff's name), clearly Bluepoint isn't equipped to do a Tokyo Jungle remake, because they don't have a sense of humor.
2020 Moosies Video Game Awards Game of the Year: Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise.
Huh, that's um, sure was a prediction I made last year. How'd that turn out? Well, perhaps I'll answer that, by getting to the proper "Awards" section...
Todd Howard Presents the 2020 Moosies Award for Most Disappointing Game and Biggest Technical Mess of the Year: Dead2y Premonition: A Blessing in Disguise.
You know the score. You know how much I loved, and still love the original. You know how disappointing this was to me. How much the horrible tech issues impeded the game, to the point where it made me doubt the Nintendo Seal of Quality for the first time in my life. How the plot driving the game was half baked at best. How the game felt like large swathes of it had been cut and not replaced with anything else. How Swery managed to disprove that The MISSING: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories meant he had learned literally anything at all about trans people, or how to write stories about them. Instead he doubled and tripled down on the fleeting transphobia from Deadly Premonition 1, making a "sexual deviant trans woman" antagonist the cornerstone of the sequel's story.
And you know how much my heart sank while playing this game. How I was into it for like the first half of the game, until it got into the cruddy transphobia, and all the facade crumbled away as I realized the story wasn't going anywhere interesting. That despite my wanting to enjoy another adventure with York and Zach, despite brief moments of the same quirky humor and heart shining through, DP2 is just a bad game.
So bad it's the most disappointing game I've ever played. Literally.
So bad I've basically lost interest in anything Swery makes in the future.
Don't play this game.
10. Most Exploitative Free to Play Game I Still Had a Pretty All Right Time With: Genshin Impact.
A little inside baseball here, but you can tell when I wrote this by the fact that the first thing on my mind is that bad article Waypoint published trying to help "guide" people on how to best engage with the infinite money hole part of Genshin Impact. I'm sure that's fallen out of everyone's memories by the time I put this up, including mine, haha.
All that aside, despite the fact that the game gives off both the aura of being a shameless rip-off of the greatest game ever made, and the aura of wanting nothing more than to feed off people with those money sinks... Okay, all joking aside, this game's pretty good. It's a big open world, with tons of cool sights to see, puzzles to solve, and much more interesting lore and characters than I expected. It certainly exceeded basically all my expectations, and I've had a pretty good time with it, despite not spending a single dime on it.
But I'd be remiss if I didn't mention I started playing right at the start, when they were throwing out free "pulls" for the characters like candy. I got lucky and got windy god boy Venti, who so far as I know isn't even attainable at the moment. Just to build up that FOMO and get people to spend while they're available.
I'm going to be real with everyone reading this: Getting this list up to ten games this year was a struggle. But I also didn't want to just do a top five list, and no other number between the two didn't feel bad weird, so Genshin sneaked on here into the tenth spot. Which isn't me saying it's actually bad, I've had lots of fun with it, and just about every time I play it, I remember, "oh, this game is actually more fun than I remember." The way the elements combo together in combat, the joys of solving environmental puzzles, the incredible vistas, and cool sights, especially in the second zone Liyue. It's a fun game, and as much as I hate the monetization, the truth is I doubt I would have shelled out sixty bucks for it, so I dunno!
If nothing else, it's at least fun to joke about Paimon being food.
Genshin Impact also wins:
- Best Running Gag: Emergency Food Paimon.
- Most Litigious Music: That one song that sounds almost exactly like Breath of the Wild.
Todd Howard would not stop calling me and sending angry emails until I let him present an award for a game that is at least good, so Todd Howard Presents the Still Kinda Disappointing in Comparison to its Incredible Predecessor but also Still Pretty Good Game Award to: DOOM Eternal.
Just to be clear, and state the obvious, I don't actually know Todd Howard. This just started as a joke in 2015 when Fallout 4 was at once very disappointing, yet I still enjoyed it enough to get onto my top ten. And it's continued since then, obviously. But in this case, well, I could have rearranged a few things and put Eternal at the number ten spot, but I thought it was funnier to have at least one section between this and me airing my final grievances to Dead2y Premonition. If you really wanted to know how Genshin got the ten spot!
In all seriousness, I had a lot of fun with DOOM Eternal. On paper, this should be a better game than its predecessor. All the changes made to the core game play are improvements. It feels better with the air double dash! Falling to your, ahem, doom no longer means sitting through a load screen, just take a smidge of damage and reset to a platform. Being able to stock up on extra lives and keep playing took a lot of the edge off more frustrating fights.
The flamethrower to get armor is a smart third part of the glory kills get health, chainsaw kills get ammo thing. And speaking of ammo, the game's extreme lowering of how much ammo the DOOM SLAYER can carry makes the chainsaw a vital part of this game, as opposed to DOOM 2016, where it was something I only had to break out occasionally. And all the weapons feel good and useful, nothing I never used like 2016, where the pistol and big laser whatever I literally never used. And even the grenades felt useful! The ice grenade was useful! There's a sword now!
And yet, despite all these improvements, not only is Eternal not a better game, it's a worse one. Too much (bad!) lore, combined with bad writing (I still can't believe 2020 saw "mortally challenged" "jokes" all over this game) just killed any interest I had in this series beyond the ripping and tearing. But even beyond that, too much platforming, and worst of all too many enemy encounters that lean on annoying enemies. That one enemy, with the shield, that can only be attacked by baiting him out into a sword swing, is just annoying. Not difficult, annoying. Yeah, I died a lot to them, but only because the extra lives meant I didn't need to entirely restart fights, and by the last handful of levels of the game, I just had lost my patience with that specific enemy, and it was easier to eat the damage and die to get through it faster than try to play along.
And I feel like that's DOOM Eternal in a nutshell. Lots of smart and cool changes to the core, but wrapped in a lot of crud that just drags the whole experience down. At least the grappling hook on the Super Shotgun was cool. I upgraded it to light enemies on fire.
9. Nioh 2
This year's Moosies really feels like it's off on a poor start, with what I realize now sounds like three games I was mostly negative on in a row. Which isn't the case, I liked more than I disliked in Genshin and Eternal! But Nioh 2? Only complaint I have here is that it's a bit too similar to the first Nioh. My thought while I was playing it was that it was the most, "they sure made that game again" sequel I'd played in a long time. And even that isn't fair, because there are new abilities and things, all of which help contribute to it being better than the original.
It turns out that being able to play as a custom character (cool purple haired samurai lady) instead of generic anime-Geralt alone made it better. But being able to steal demon abilities, and do cool stuff like demon counters and (I think?) even more depth to the already involved combat helped elevate it too. It could also be that the combat is literally the same as the first game, and I just engaged more with stuff like parrying, or weapons other than the default katanas (the tonfas are SICK). It's been long enough since the first, and that game was kinda forgettable.
I'd even say Nioh 2's story is better, not that it was anything special. But it's a story about two friends who grow close, only to have that friendship driven apart, and, well, I won't spoil it, though this is a game where problems are resolved at the ends of blades, after all. Or tonfa. Seriously, the tonfa are cool, maybe a little OP in some situations, because they're so fast you can stun-lock a lot of human enemies, and...
Suffice it to say, it's a really fun game. Maybe not something that would have cracked my top ten in a better year, but unlike Genshin, I don't really feel like I was scraping to get this one on here. Not amazing praise, I know, but it's really good at what it does.
Nioh 2 also wins:
- Roundest Cats.
- Best Pettable Cats.
- Character Creator of the Year.
- Tonfas of the Year.
Pokemon of the Year: Beta Wooper.
8. Star Wars Squadrons
One of my favorite games as a kid was Rogue Squadron II. Between my love of Star Wars (then at a purity I feel was only possible as a kid), and it being a visually stunning GameCube launch game, I just couldn't get enough of it. So much of what I loved about those movies, brought to life before my eyes, and in a really fun flying around space ship type game! Then a few years later there was Rogue Squadron III, which was still good, but never felt like it quite had that same magic.
Now, all these years later, did Star Wars Squadrons manage to evoke that same magic? Not quite, but close enough. While it might lack some of (in my memory) the more interesting mission and level design from Rogue Squadron II, the attention to detail in the ships themselves, and what they're capable of doing is beyond what those old games did. The cockpit only perspective, and redirecting power between subsystems was intimidating at first, but now I feel like an old pro at it. Like the ace pilot the game's supposed to make me feel like, and it's just so much fun.
Even beyond the campaign, I've played a whole bunch of the game online, and done pretty well at it. Or at least well enough that most matches I don't feel like I was completely worked over. I don't mind losing in online games, so long as it feels like I put up a good fight, and managed to hold my own.
To some extent, even just this being a capital G Good Star Wars game is enough to excite that little kid buried deep within me. After years of jokes being made at EA's floundering attempts to make Star Wars games (alongside Disney's floundering attempts to keep Star Wars going (I say this as someone who has liked all the Disney Star Wars movies (except Rise of Skywalker, which was smoldering trash))), it feels like it's starting to finally come together. Battlefront II, no matter how many patches and content additions it took, is a great, really fun game now! Jedi Fallen Order, bugs and framerates (which are probably buttery smooth in backwards compatibility on PS5/Series X) aside, is one of the best Star Wars games ever. And now Squadrons, though it might not be the biggest, or more elaborate Star Wars game ever, in keeping those sights relatively low, hit its target dead on, and is a great time.
Besides, how many other games out there let me space drift and put a wood carving of a Porg in the cockpit?
Star Wars Squadrons also wins:
- Best Space Drifting.
- Best Decorative Porg Carving.
- Game that Most Made Me Wish I had VR.
- Competitive Multiplayer Game of the Year.
- MOBA of the Year. No I will not take any further questions on this award.
Expansion of the Year: Warlords of New York (Tom Clancy's The Division 2).
What a brilliant ploy that three dollar sale was. Who wouldn't plop down three bucks just to give a game a shot? I mean, obviously lots of cases I wouldn't, but regardless, Ubisoft managed to get me, and a couple other friends hooked on this game a month before the Warlords expansion, so of course I bought the expansion (along with some of the other DLC before then (hey I got a cool mission in an aquarium, it was worth it)). And it turns out, it was pretty good too! I could spend a lot of time writing about my issues with the themes and tones of Division 2 in general (sure picked a hell of a year to get into a series about a (probably) fascist military group wresting control over a post apocalyptic US ravaged by a viral outbreak), but honestly it was just good to have a shlooter to play in the months after losing interest in Destiny 2. Though, I say that despite the fact that I'd probably be playing Beyond Light now if I had a PS5, but that's neither here nor there.
This was a really good expansion, with a big new area to explore, and some solid missions. The end game ongoing forever shlooter stuff didn't hold my attention (like D2's Shadowkeep didn't), but at least this had enough meat to be worthwhile just to play through once or twice (on my own and with a friend), so I had a great time.
7. Marvel's Avengers
What a strange journey this game took to get here. Announced way too early (via some investment call or something YEARS ago??), the initial showing at E3 2019 didn't look great, and all the messaging around it was just so confused. Was it a loot game, or a story focused single player? Both??
And the game itself felt pretty confused about that too. Almost like two separate games duct taped together, but neither one feeling quite as fully polished and put together as it should have. Yet despite all that, I really like it! Still! Kamala's journey from an average girl to a super hero fighting alongside her heroes is still one of the most moving stories I've experienced all year. I know I'm a sucker for this sort of thing (hence why I like superhero stuff so much in general), but I still stand by this being a really good one of those.
Even the loot game stuff, still has its issues, but when I occasionally pop in, it's still fun! The game just needs more variety in stuff to do, places to go, and enemies to fight. The new missions around the new character (Kate Hawkeye) were good, I like the story and where it seems to be going (it ends on kind of a cliffhanger that I assume will get picked up again with the Clint Hawkeye story missions), but now that I've got Kate up to level 50... It feels like I've got nothing to do except wait for the next big patch.
So that's why this game is at this spot on this list. I know I wrote a mostly very positive blog about the game a couple months ago, and I stand by feeling the way I did at the time, but the game still isn't quite where I wished it was. Hopefully it gets there, because every time I read something about it not meeting sales expectations, or not making money back, I just worry Disney's going to pull the plug, and that would be bad for the ongoing story the game is trying to tell, and probably way worse for the dev team(s?) (the way the industry is, I just worry there'd be layoffs or something).
Marvel's Avengers also wins:
- Best adaptation of a comics character I didn't otherwise know so she felt like a new character to me: Kamala Khan.
- Best Co-op Game.
- Best Ass (America's Ass).
- Biggest Ass (Hulk (sometimes he hunches over in the jet on the way to missions and the camera focuses right in on it)).
- Best ability to shrink enemies.
- Award for the game that struggled the most on console but I still enjoyed it anyway, but whoof those framerate and resolution drops.
Game I wish was good enough to have really liked: Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout.
For a brief moment, this game was all anyone could talk about. Or at the very least it felt like it was everywhere, and everyone was talking about it. And heck, I played some of it too, and had a decent amount of fun. I even won once! Only once, but hey, a victory is a victory!
Problem is that Fall Guys, to me at least, is really only fun in the sense of just goofing around with friends. Like, the actual act of moving, and interacting in the game is a hindrance to enjoying it. The moving, jumping, grabbing, is all sluggish and inaccurate enough that sometimes it feels more like I'm suggesting where my Fall Guy goes, rather than having a tight control. And this game might not require the precision that say a Mario game would in its platforming, but it feels like it could use more precision than it has.
So I fell off the game, because I could tell that trying to play it alone would only lead to frustration. Fun game in theory, but not fun enough in reality to crack the top ten list.
6. Yakuza Like a Dragon
Ah, Yakuza. Like clockwork, like the majestic groundhog seeing its shadow, the changing of the seasons, a new Yakuza has entered our lives, right on schedule. And with more fanfare than ever, at least in the West, what with this one not only launching on multiple consoles at once, but being one of the flagship games Microsoft touted out with Series X support at launch. Of course I don't have one of those so I've just been playing it on my trusty PS4, but aside from a few load times being a little sloggy, I've had no issues technically, not that I was expecting any.
But to be honest, I went into this one kind of expecting to...not like it that much. Even as a long time fan of the series (summer of 2021 will be ten years since I played Yakuza 3 and 4 basically back to back), I'd be lying if I didn't say they tend to be hit or miss. When they hit, they hit hard and are fantastic. Transphobia in the real estate aside, Yakuza 0 is still probably one of my favorites of the generation, and so is Judgment. Kiwami 2 is right up there too! But at their worst? I'm still mad about Yakuza 6's terrible ending. And also the rest of that game being bad.
So the ups and downs of the general quality of the series, combined with trepidations over this being the studio's first attempt at traditional JRPG style combat made me really worry about this game. Would this be another slog like 6? A game that had a lot of good in it, but ultimately buckled under its own weight and poor thematic choices near the end like 5?
Well, as of this writing I haven't actually finished the game yet, but after a slow start, I've really liked it! Is it irresponsible of me to write about and include a game in my top ten if I'm far from the end of it? Maybe premature, given I'm still sixty plus hours in, but the game would have to fumble a lot of things very badly to get itself taken entirely off this list. Perhaps the placement would differ depending on how I feel after finishing the game, but if anything as of this writing, it should be at a spot higher. Just don't think I can quite put a game in my top five if I didn't actually complete it yet.
The combat, while a lot better than I originally feared, still doesn't quite feel like the best way I can envision doing a turn based version of Yakuza combat. For a variety of reasons I can see why they wanted to just do a JRPG (not least of which being main character Ichiban Kasuga's love of Dragon Quest), but what's in the game just feels like a coat of Yakuza paint over a generic JRPG. Enemies have weaknesses and resistances to certain attack types, but what they are usually feels completely arbitrary. On top of that, I don't think this game has something like Persona where you can pull up a menu mid fight to see what those are. I mean, they lifted the face button menu selection thing straight from Persona 5's combat, they could've taken this too!
In the older Yakuza games/Judgment, there was always some variant of the Heat system. Hit enemies with attacks, build up a meter, and spend some portion of the meter on special attacks. Get them into some sort of elaborate throw, smash their face into a wall, poke them in the butt with a long pole, roll them up into a snowman, there were tons and tons of them, and often they were context sensitive. Like a Dragon instead feels like each character/job type has a decent but not huge selection of these, but only the ones that can be done without needing something like a car door to bash into someone's head, for example.
There's two different complaints I can make about this one thing, actually. The first is that Like a Dragon doesn't have the Heat system at all. Instead of building up a meter and spending it on special moves, it's just MP (Mental Points), and it works like any regular JRPG. Spend it on attacks, and refill it with items (mostly energy drinks instead of potions). Or eat at a restaurant. A few things can regenerate a little MP on melee attacks (weapons for specifics Jobs seem to), but it's not common. Now, there's nothing really wrong with how it works, and managing MP hasn't been a big issue thus far, but it just feels like a big missed opportunity. They could have incorporated what was already in the series, and made this feel more like a JRPG version of Yakuza mechanically, rather than just aesthetically.
The other complaint has to do with the way the area around the characters does and doesn't matter. Like a Dragon is weird in that it's a game where positioning does matter, but you have no control over any of it. Not only that, but both the members of Ichi's party, and all the enemies shuffle around randomly. This can be an issue if you want to do a big sweeping attack that hits one enemy "and everyone near them," but the enemies just happened to move away so I didn't hit nearly as many as I wanted.
Or conversely, in a situation where I was fighting an optional boss (a giant murder Roomba) in the sewers. I got absolutely wrecked and defeated in about two turns because my characters happened to be bunched up in exactly the wrong way during the boss' first two attacks. On my next attempt at that same boss, without leveling or making any changes to my strategy, equipment, etc, that fight was a cakewalk because I got lucky and my characters weren't bunched up.
In most fights it hasn't mattered that much, but I've gotten to what I've heard is the biggest difficulty spike in the game. And let me tell you, that boss fight was hard. Not even because of all the character placement stuff, just plain difficult. In some ways it was kind of refreshing because it made it feel like every single thing I did mattered, but at times it felt kinda cheap. Especially with stuff like a special move that the boss(es) would do that (at least up to this point) was the only enemy attack in the game where I couldn't even hit Circle to reduce the damage taken!
I got off track from the positioning thing, but that's what happens when I wrote most of this prior to hitting that difficulty spike, then had to rewrite my "I haven't gotten to the difficulty spike yet" paragraph. At least what I've played since that boss fight has been a lot more manageable. All that said, the whole dying because of uncontrollable poor placement thing is frustrating when it happens!
Less aggravating, is that the AI pathing can be wonky a lot of the time too. I've seen instances where one character started weirdly behind the rest of the crew (because they all run behind you outside of combat), and then when I pick an enemy and an attack, they'll just run into a wall. For like, five or ten seconds, before eventually sliding along the geometry enough to get free, or even just warping right to the enemy. Nothing game breaking, but still frustrating to see the AI unable to navigate around simple walls.
I've done the thing I don't like doing, but ends up happening every year. I take a game I really like a lot, and focus on the negatives! Quibbles aside, after getting a full party of characters, and leveling them up enough to have a decent slew of attacks, I have been enjoying the combat. Some of the moves are suitably outlandish while still remaining in the realm of a real world modern day setting, like summoning pigeons to attack, or throwing handfuls of thumbtacks. Generally there's been a pretty good balance in terms of the fights feeling enjoyable. Often there's too many groups of enemies roaming about the city, but that was long a complaint of the series anyway.
This game could be better about tutorializing things. I say this mostly because when I originally wrote this, I included a brief bit about how I wished I could swap party members in and out mid fight. Turns out, you can! The game just never told me, and I didn't pay enough attention in the Etc menu in combat to notice. Sometimes even I miss the button prompts! But there's other things, like the whole business management stuff that the game does a poor job of explaining. Specifically the shareholders meetings. I completely flubbed up the first one I did, even with the pages and pages of the game trying to tell me what to do. However, once I actually figured out what to do, I aced every shareholders meeting since.
Then there's the story itself, which again, I haven't finished, but I've been pretty into it. Aside from the game's obsession with insisting a certain character who seemed like a big a-hole wasn't really an a-hole, I've enjoyed the typical Yakuza plotline. Secret schemes, double crossings, elaborate conspiracies, obsessions over real estate, "this person's evil grand plan, that they thought they tricked us into was actually a part of our plan all along, and acting like we got tricked into it was intentional," they're all here, and I hope it keeps my interest to the end! Sixty hours in to what I've heard is an eighty hour game, but who really knows at this point. Wouldn't be surprised if it takes me a hundred at this rate, and this is after every previous Yakuza/Judgment weirdly taking me almost exactly sixty hours. That's with the side quests too.
And those side quests... These may be the most ridiculous and outlandish ones the series has seen yet. Even if they're not, they've been a delight, and gotten quite a few laughs out of me. I've done everything from help a little girl try to raise money for her sick brother's medical bills, to using the power of the world's spiciest kimchi to help a little old lady cross the street in record time, to fighting a loose chimp behind the controls of an excavator.
On top of the regular side quests, since this is a party based JRPG, that means there's a party along with Ichi for the journey. And, let's say like another JRPG set in modern day Japan, you can rank up your relationships with them (no dating as far as I can tell, at least not with the party). They all have their own little side quest chain, and I've greatly enjoyed helping them along with all their problems. If anything has been made clear by my blogs over the last couple years, is that I'm a sucker for having friends in video games, and this is that!
The minigames are fun too! It has the usual assortment of Sega arcade games (though truth be told I'm getting a little tired of Virtua Fighter 5 and Space Harrier), and amongst all the other usuals, there's a surprisingly good kart racer, and the triumphant return of karaoke! After its absence in Judgment (apparently due to the Japanese actor for Yagami being a professional singer who charges extra money to sing), I love that it's back here. Even in the English dub too (of course I'm playing it in English, don't act surprised, Nioh 2 is the only game I've chosen to play in Japanese lately, haha). It was a bit weird finally knowing what the words of Baka Mitai mean, but let me tell you, Hot Pot Party...is a classic. Amazing, impeccable. I'm sure it's great in Japanese too, I'll have to look up the Japanese karaoke at some point.
My only complaint with the dub is that a couple iconic characters from the older games have had cameos here, and I'm not going to say their English performances are bad, so much as just not the same. The thing happened that I thought would, which is that I so strongly associate them with their Japanese voices that any other voice just doesn't sound right. I'm sure the same thing would have happened if they were in Japanese but recast with someone else. But aside from those couple of (so far) brief cameos, I've enjoyed the dub. It's maybe a bit goofier overall than Judgment's, but that could be because this game feels goofier overall, and has more voice acting in the side quests.
That's Yakuza Like a Dragon. Maybe if the ending is terrible I'll end up souring on it, or maybe if it's great I'll regret not putting it higher on the list. Or maybe I finished the game before finishing this and cut this section out! Likely not if you're reading this. It's not the best in the series, but based on where I'm at, I'd say it's in the upper half of the pack, and I've been having a great time.
Yakuza Like a Dragon also wins:
- Best Karaoke Song: Hot Pot Party.
- Weirdest Enemy Type: Those guys disguised as trash bags.
- Best Hair: Ichiban Kasuga.
- Best Kart Racing.
- Best Summons.
- Chicken of the Year: Omelette.
- Best/Most Absurd Side Quests.
- Best Chimpanzee, Tiger, and Bear.
- Business Management of the Year.
- Best Reference by Name to the Dreamcast and VMU.
Sony® PlayStation® 5 Presents The PlayStation® 5 Game I Should Have Played but Couldn't: Astro's Playroom.
Gosh I wish this was actually sponsored by Sony. And by "sponsored by," I mean they would just give me a PS5 since it's impossible to be fast enough to actually get one.
Anyway! Every year I take a moment to write about the one particular game I really regret not playing, and often the reasoning is the same it is this year. I lack some bit of hardware, basically. This year, I was torn between Astro and Miles, and while I'm sure the story of Miles will make that more endearing to me in the long run, right now, in this FOMO moment?
I want to hold that DualSense™. I want to feel those rumbles, and pull those triggers! And from the sound of things, there's no game that better shows off these new features than Astro's Playroom. I know that eventually when there is enough supply that people who aren't algorithms can actually order a PS5, this'll be the first game I play.
Runner up: Marvel®'s Spider-man™ Miles Morales.
5. Ghost of Tsushima
The wind twisting through trees, along wide open fields, tufts of grass blowing along with it, there is a beauty to the landscape of this game that really captivated me. I almost called it a natural beauty, but every time the sun lined up just right behind a line of trees, that incredible sunset glowing so bright, it just looked so good that it felt like it transcended what would actually be possible. If that makes any sense at all. But there is something about the look of this game, about how everything reacts to the ever present wind, to the way the the leaves blow in that wind, the way the sun lights up everything in its path, that's just gorgeous.
A large portion of my time with Ghost of Tsushima was spent simply admiring the beauty of its nature. Slowly moseying through a quiet forest on my faithful steed Sora (the horse). Climbing up the peak of a mountain, and stopping to see the islands stretch out as far as the eyes can see. Playing a beautiful melody on the flute, gazing as the clouds drift by. Walking along the beach, watching the waves roll up and down, crabs scurrying about their business. Wishing I could relax in the hot springs like Jin, just free to soak it all in, experiencing pure bliss as those golden orange rays wash over as the sun sets.
That wind, the way the game uses it as the means to direct to the next objective (or whatever random spot marked on the map), is such a simple, but wonderful way to convey that info. I've long been vocal about my dislike for minimaps. Any game designed in such a way that you have to spend lots of it staring at a small map in the corner of the screen to know where you're going, rather than the lush, enormous world that people spent years crafting, I think that's a big mistake. I'm fine with icons in the world, or even something like the glowing breadcrumb trail from the Fable games, but having the wind guide you is so smart. It's subtle enough to not look intrusive, yet ever present, and obvious enough that it's easy to follow.
So much time spent just following that wind, wherever it took me...
As much as I would have really liked Ghost of Tsushima the nature appreciation game, it turns out it's also a really good open world action game with the appropriate amount of stealth peppered in for that extra modern game zest. It doesn't do anything revolutionary, but even in a genre that I've played countless times before, and will countless times again (most likely), if it does all the things I expect it to well, I'll have a good time. Obviously I really enjoyed exploring the world, but all the rest of the pieces fit together well too.
The combat finds a good middle ground between the very fast and precise design of its olde timey Japan contemporaries (Nioh 1/2, Sekiro), and the loosey goosey just do whatever you want of Assassin's Creed. You can certainly parry and perfect dodge your way through this game (I imagine you'd have to on "Lethal" difficulty), but even playing on Hard (what I settled on) was enough to be a fun challenge, but give me sufficient slack to not stress myself out in the way that say Sekiro did. Even if that was a good stress (I love From games), I think Tsushima's combat found the middle ground it needed to.
The most noteworthy thing about the combat/stealth, is that sometimes enemies will just get terrified of you. Not just randomly, there's certain abilities and things that can cause it, and gear to help boost the chances of it. I like this mainly because I think it's super unrealistic how in 99% of games with human enemies, they always fight to the last person, and never surrender. That's just not how these things work, people surrender, they run away, etc. Maybe they don't always get the chance to, but it's something I've noticed over the last couple years, and I appreciate the rare instances that a game has enemies do something other than just fight to the death.
And it plays into the story too. Jin Sakai, having narrowly avoided death multiple times, starts to become a folk hero, a living legend amongst the people of Tsushima. The Ghost, they call him. And while he becomes a symbol for the people of Tsushima to rally behind, he becomes a symbol of terror to the invading Mongols. It's striking to be fighting these enemies that speak only Mongolian for the bulk of the game, then suddenly hear them exclaim "GHOST" upon seeing Jin.
Let me tell you, it's pretty fun to start tearing into a group of enemies, and have the remnants scatter because they're so terrified of me. Or, more accurately, terrified of The Ghost.
But back to the story, again, nothing revolutionary happening, but I did find it weirdly refreshing that the game's tone was as serious as it was. Maybe it's just because the rest of the game is so easy to compare with Assassin's Creed, but Tsushima trying to take everything seriously just felt different to those swaggering, goofy romps. I don't think Tsushima lands everything it tries to do, and I think what it does do it does better in the side quest chains involving the named characters than in the main narrative, but I liked it. It's not grim-dark edgy serious like some games, but it treats war, all the casualties it brings, and the horrible things it makes people on both sides do with a level of seriousness I didn't expect.
Of course it's still a game about a single dude murdering his way through an entire Mongol army (at least mechanically, even if the story is a lot of trying to recruit people to the cause), so I wouldn't call it realistic, but it works.
Plus, it has the ability to manually bow. Show respect to those who have departed this mortal coil, apologize to dead bears, or even bow to frog statues and have dozens of frogs appear out of thin air. And you can pet the foxes!
What a great game.
Addendum! After writing this I tried the multiplayer mode with a friend, and that's good too! Plus you can pet the ghost dog. Also there are ghost dogs.
Ghost of Tsushima also wins:
- Photo Mode of the Year.
- Windiest Game.
- Best Pettable Foxes.
- Best Pettable Ghost Dogs.
- Best Horse (Sora).
- Best Sunsets/Sunrises.
- Best Leaves.
- Best Use of Bees.
- BioForge Presents the Award for Best Flute Playing.
- Best Frog Based Easter Egg.
Old Ongoing Game I Should Have Gotten into Sooner: Warframe
A lot of the early part of 2020 for me was defined by trying to fill the Destiny shaped hole in my life. As much as that sounds like I'm jesting, I'm really not. There's kinda two types of games I find myself playing the most. Big single player games that usually take up a lot of time that I really want to immerse myself in, and games that I can just kinda play and use to fill time while I'm catching up on the podcasts I can never keep up with (I haven't listened to Friends at the Table since the Hieron finale in 2019, for example). And Destiny (2) really has been one of the best games for that over the years. But, well I don't need to go into why Shadowkeep was such a bummer for the umpteenth time, but it was. So I turned to other games to fill that hole in my life.
Of the ones I tried, Warframe was the best of them. It certainly has its issues, a lot of which stem from it being a game built upon layers and layers of cruft and junk, and sifting through all that can feel impossible. And beyond frustrating when I want to try to craft a new Warframe, only to be rebuffed when the first material I try to get is only gotten from a specific activity that you need to be at max rank with a faction I've never heard of to even do, let alone probably a minuscule drop rate.
But in terms of the lore, the setting, the aesthetic, the game itself, I think Warframe is pretty great. Great enough that I thought it deserved a special mention here, despite it not being a 2020 release.
4. Paper Mario: The Origami King
Back when I was a kid, and reading about the original Paper Mario, there was something that eluded my grasp. The term "turn based combat" was totally alien to me. Was there something that physically turned? But after I started the game, I quickly realized, "oh, you take turns!" Listen, I was nine or ten, don't make fun of me! Of course I loved the game, and later loved Thousand Year Door even more, and even had a great time with Super Paper Mario, despite all that turn based combat replaced with turning the world from 2D sidescrolling to 3D running around.
After that, I didn't touch another Paper Mario, until this year. And you know what?
Young me is finally vindicated, because Origami King has combat that is based around TURNING. Physically turning (and sliding) the arena to reposition enemies! The most literal turn based combat. In all seriousness, it might not be the return of the traditional combat that all us Thousand Year Door die-hards wanted, but it's a lot more original, and creative. It certainly left me wracking my brain, especially during the (mostly) fantastic boss fights in ways that the combat certainly hasn't in any other game I can think of.
Really though, like the past games in the series, the combat is fun enough, if repetitive, but that's not the thing that got it to the fourth spot on this list. If that's all it had going for it, it'd still be here, it was kind of a weaker year, after all. The most endearing part of the game is the writing. The story, characters, and all the goofy little jokes and gags from the NPCs along the way are what got this game really into my heart.
Origami King isn't just the most delightful game I played all year, it was also exactly the right game I needed at the right moment. I impulse bought a Switch when I did because it was the exact wrong intersection of me having the money for it, there being enough in stock after months of shortages (otherwise the Animal Crossing FOMO would've wrangled me months sooner), and the impending release of a certain game about a certain FBI Special Agent that I won't mention by name again. Mario Odyssey, which I got with my Switch was also a delightful romp, but that other game was, well, I won't repeat myself.
Problem was it left me regretting that I spent hundreds of dollars on a console for a game that was bad, even if the other game I had at the time was great. "But I could have just kept waiting, gotten an actual deal, or the mythical Switch Pro," etc. All the typical bad thoughts I think after feeling like I made a blunder with my money.
Then, the universe smiled upon me, and out came Origami King, a new Switch release that not only helped me better justify spending that money, but was also everything I wanted from that other game, but actually done well. Okay, not a murder mystery, but the charm, the humor, the quirky characters, Origami King had them all! It helped raise my spirits and mood more than just about anything else I played all year, and for that, I'll long be grateful to this game.
All that said, there were still a few things I wish for better. Chief among them the bizarre decision Nintendo made at some point to severely limit what these games can do in terms of new characters. Olivia, the ditzy but lovable character accompanying Mario along the journey is wonderful, but she and her nefarious brother Oliver (the titular Origami King) are the only new named characters in the game. Sure, Bobby the Bob-omb is charming, and had a surprising heart-wrenching story of his own, but he's just a Bob-omb. Even the name "Bobby" was a nickname Olivia gave him, and he keeps insisting his name is just "Bob-omb."
Thinking back on how many weird, goofy, and hilarious characters were in those older games, it's pretty disappointing that all we get here are a collection of mostly generic Toads, Shy Guys, Bob-ombs, etc. The most original one amongst them is a sea captain named "Captain T. Ode." So, I guess technically he'd be a third new named character, but even that felt like they were pulling a fast one on Nintendo itself.
That, and the game starts to drag a little in the final hours, mostly in the combat, but otherwise it was an absolute delight. And there were a couple moments in the game that made me feel genuinely sad when the game wanted to evoke that tearjerker mood. All the laughter I expected, but that, I did not.
I keep repeating myself, but it really is one of the most delightful games I've played in a very long time, and weak year or not, it'd be one of my favorite games regardless of whatever year I played it in.
Paper Mario The Origami King also wins:
- Most Delightful Game of the Year.
- Best "Turn-Based" Combat.
- Best Papercrafts.
- Funniest Game of the Year.
- Most Monetary Inflation.
- Game that Featured Luigi of the Year.
- Best Song and Dance Routine Involving Koopas Vying for Birdo's Love.
- Most Creative Boss Fights (Legion of Stationary).
- Most Inexplicably Ripping Guitars in the Music (particularly the first time Mario drives the shoe car).
- Best Seafaring.
- Bob-omb of the Year: Bobby.
- New Character of the Year: Olivia.
The Moosies 2020 Old Games of the Year Part 1: The Last Guardian.
Every year I end up catching up on a bunch of older games released in years prior, and I'm glad I had plenty of older ones this year to fill those very long gaps between 2020 releases. At one point, quite a few years ago now, I even did a whole separate Moosies awards just for older games. Didn't quite do that this year, but in filling a few gaps in this lineup caused by my literally not playing enough 2020 games, I've decided to highlight not one, but three older games that really grabbed me this year. I guess four if you count Warframe, but I came up with this idea after writing that section, plus that is a forever game that got new content this year, but that's all beside the point.
The first of these games being The Last Guardian. I'm not going to dwell on this, I wrote plenty about it months ago, but the story about a little kid and their giant animal companion learning to trust each other, and becoming close friends still pulls at my heartstrings just thinking about it now. It's a really frustrating game at times, for a variety of reasons, but the parts that work just work wonders. Trico is big, and strong, and my friend, and I love them!
Of all the games this year, Hades may be the one that was the hardest for me to figure out what to say about it. Not for lack of things that I like about it, clearly I wouldn't rank it so highly otherwise. Just a combination of the discourse around it being so good at integrating story into rogue-like-lite design feeling so recent, as does my botched attempt to write about the game from a couple months ago.
But I do feel the need to reiterate (or perhaps just iterate?) how good of a rogue-like-lite it really is, even just to play. It might not have nearly the same quantity of variety as a lot of others in the genre, but it more than makes up for that in quality. On the surface only six weapons sounds like a meager offering, but between the different aspects having their own effects, and all the different temporary upgrades along the way, a weapon can feel very different at the end of a run than it does normally.
And that's not even getting into all the godly powers that get bestowed along the way. A Zeus heavy chain lightning build can feel a lot different than one built around giving status effects like Drunk or Doom via melee attacks. Of course, there's no reason (other than luck) why they can't be the same build, and there's just so many different combinations that I certainly couldn't think of them all off the top of my head.
It's such a tight, fun game, that at least up until the late game "make this as hard as you want" modifiers come into play, any time I screwed up it felt like I had screwed up. At least until I got to my first big stumbling block, that dynamic duo, Theseus and Asterius. These two, literally mocking me (at least Theseus was) as I tried again and again, failing almost every time, just banging my head against their ripped, muscular wall. Even when I did rarely get past them, it just felt like I happened upon the exact right build, and I cheesed my way through.
For a while there, I was starting to lose interest in the game, feeling like that buff wall was insurmountable. But I assure you, I stuck with it, and eventually mounted them- That came out wrong, but I'll leave it in. The point is, I realized that I'd let myself get too sloppy. I wasn't paying close enough attention to what I was doing, what those two bosses were doing in the fight. Just flailing around wildly, acting purely on instinct.
So when I took a step back, thought about the fight, what the two of them did, how the arena was set up, I figured out a plan. I'd separate the two, use the pillars as cover, and whittle down Asterius whilst avoiding Theseus' spear. And you know what?
It worked, and suddenly that wall felt like nothing. Suddenly I was the one clowning on them, laughing at Theseus' mistakes while I ran circles around them. Even if there was another stumbling block between me and my first complete run (let's say its name starts with "Ha" and ends with "des"), but that was just another case of stopping and reevaluating my strategy until I finally figured it out, and for a good while there, it felt like I had mastered the game.
Of course all those difficulty modifiers eventually got the best of me, but by then I'd finished the story, and pretty much everything else that I really wanted to see and do. Still never caught a legendary fish, despite catching HUNDREDS of them, but I'm sure Poseidon will understand.
Suffice it to say, I think Hades is an exceptional action game, but the way it hands out story bit by bit, the way the narrative is built entirely around the idea of dying and resurrecting is absolutely brilliant. So brilliant I'm shocked it took this long for a rogue-like-lite to incorporate. Or at least to do as well as Hades did it. The only place it stumbles, and probably one of the main reasons why this game isn't even higher on my list, is that I don't think the main narrative goes anywhere interesting. Ultimately I had the realization that its story is just a retelling of a Greek myth, but not a particularly interesting one. "What if this Greek myth explaining a meteorological phenomenon had our OC in it?"
I almost feel mean reducing it that much, because the most enduring thing about the game really is the characters, especially that "original character" himself, Zagreus (though I guess technically there was some obscure figure named Zagreus in Greek myth, just like how technically there was a Kratos, but you get what I mean). What Supergiant did with taking the familiar faces of Greek myth (and a few more obscure ones), giving them incredible new visual designs, applying their usual craft for great writing, and for the first time a full voice cast (special props to Supergiant regular Logan Cunningham for voicing so many characters here), it all comes together to make every one of them just about the best reinterpretation of these characters that I can think of.
And they even managed to find a good middle ground between the overly sanitized/kid friendly version of Greek myth taught in school (or at least my middle school social studies class), and the brutal, often gross reality. Though, saying, "Do you think Zeus really slept with that many people or is just bragging," is kinda, well... I shouldn't get bogged down in wondering if it's in bad taste to re-write a serial sexual predator in that way given, again, these are all just reinterpretations of literal myth.
This is what happened in that other blog I tried writing, just got stuck on stuff like that!
But something I do appreciate is that while it's a little buried in side stories, it doesn't shy away from the queerness of the olde timey Greeks. Or, probably more accurately, such things weren't really taboo in the way that in a lot of ways they still are today. Though I'm no ancient Greek scholar, please feel free to correct me on the history of the gays if anyone reading this is. But still, I appreciate that half of the (two) romances in the game are queer. The side story involving Achilles and his lost love Patroclus is probably the best in the game. I appreciate that Artemis is the pitch perfect, "I don't talk about it with the relatives but I spend all my time with my girlfriend and all the other gays we know," lesbian.
If anything I just wish there was more of that, but I'll take what I can get. Same thing with Chaos being the only they/them pronouns character, I personally would have liked there to be a nonbinary character who wasn't as strange a mythological entity as them, but hey, better than nothing.
What I've written about here this game has been scatter shot, a jumbled mess, but I think I've conveyed my feelings on it. It's a great rogue-like-lite with some really great characters in it. I just wish the main story had been up to snuff.
Hades also wins:
- Rogue-like-lite of the Year.
- Best Canonical Gay Ship of the Year: Thanatos x Zagreus (ThanZag).
- Rock of the Year: Bouldy.
- DOOM-esque Soundtrack of the Year.
- Best Pettable Dog (Friend) of the Year: Cerberus.
- Best Instance of a Character Interacting with the Narrator.
- Best Character Designs.
- Best New Protagonist: Zagreus.
- Voice Actor of the Year: Logan Cunningham, for voicing like half the characters.
The Moosies 2020 Old Games of the Year Part 2: The MISSING: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories.
This game, probably the most noteworthy thing Swery has worked on outside of Deadly Premonition (sorry to all the Spy Fiction stans out there), just feels so much like it fell out of a parallel universe now. Despite it being from a cisgender director, and presumably mostly (if not entirely, for all I know) cis studio, it's probably the single best game I've ever played about a trans character, and a trans story. Granted that's about as low bar to meet as there is (mostly my own fault for not spending more time playing truly independent games made by trans people), but that doesn't diminish or change what this story is about.
Textually it's about a trans woman coming to terms with herself, with the help of her loving girlfriend, but mechanically it's about healing from all the pains and wounds that life throws at you. That no matter how hard things get, you can always work through it, keep going until things get better, and it resonates with me. A lot!
That moment late in the game, when it finally clicked (granted it was when the game explicitly called it out, which I think is kinda funny) and I realized how well those themes were integrated into the game itself, and the game just felt special in a way that most don't. Lots of games tell great, and impactful stories, but usually those stories feel disconnected from what you're doing in the game. Or they're games that are basically nothing but story. And those are all fine, but like I said, when it all comes together and works, it feels special.
Despite my being a few years late to the party on this one, I just had to write a little bit more about it. Especially when I fear it may end up having been the last good, or noteworthy game from Swery. Just, if you play it, take the warning at the front of the game seriously, it does get pretty dark and serious, especially toward the end (but don't worry, the ending is good, trust me). And also the part where it's a puzzle platformer isn't great, but it's worth seeing through to the end.
2. Final Fantasy VII Remake
From Resident Evil to Crash Bandicoot, from Tony Hawk to this, we've entered an era of the late 90s PS1 games getting full on remakes. Not just HD remasters, full remakings ranging from basically the same game but with entire graphical overhauls (Crash), to some mechanical adjustments (Tony Hawk, I presume). Resident Evil 2 (and 3, which I didn't play, only watched Abby play) was basically an entirely new game that just happened to use the same locations and major story beats from the original, and RE2 felt like a fantastic reinvention that the series needed (and immediately squandered in 3).
But Final Fantasy VII Remake? This game, so far as I'm concerned, is the best remake in the history of remakes, and it only covers a small portion of what was in the original game! I say this because it's not only a complete reinvention of that original game mechanically, it doesn't just expand upon the original story with more depth, more time spent to better flesh out the characters, whether they're main cast or side characters. It does all that, while using this framework as a springboard to both tell a new version of that story, while in a wild metatexual-y way, even has something to say about the people who wanted this remake to be nothing but a straight retelling of the original.
Most importantly, it works. All this would be for naught if the game didn't work for both fans of the original, and new players, like myself. Obviously I can't speak for every person who played the original, but at least anecdotally it sounded like most long time fans loved this game every bit as much as the newcomers like myself. And I just need to take a second to step back and applaud the developers for walking such an impossible tightrope and still managing to make everyone happy with the end result.
I could sit here and write out my few gripes with some of the sloggy dungeons, and the uninspired side quests, and sure, that stuff makes the game drag in spots. That's mostly because the rest of the game is so good. I had zero attachment to any of the characters from this game before playing, and now I'm one hundred percent bought in. I went from, "Oh, Cloud has the pointy hair and Aeris is the one who [SPOILERS]," to, "Cloud is my tragic child and two or three games from now if anything happens to Aerith I will bawl my eyes out." Okay, maybe I never actually thought the words "Cloud is my tragic child" but you get what I mean. Aside from Barret's writing being kinda black stereotype-y (or a lot, I'm too white to say, but you know), all the characters are fantastic. And even Barret, he has some of the best lines in the entire game.
"A good man who serves a great evil is not without sin. He must recognize and acknowledge his complicity. He must open his eyes to the truth--that his corporate masters are profiting from the planet's pain."
Thank you Barret, for giving me this perfect segue into the thing about this game most resonant in this moment. Yes, I know I went into all this stuff months ago when I first wrote about the game, but seeing the governments of the world (well mostly the US but not solely) only continue to kowtow to corporate interests, seeing them refuse to take any serious or significant action on literally any issue of real importance, whether that be the environment, or anything around the pandemic, it really just drives home how screwed up everything is. And damn, if a game about people taking it into their own hands and bringing the fight literally against the evil corporation doesn't only feel somehow even more resonant now than it did this past spring. Amazing how that can happen, huh?
Even if this game wasn't the best AAA big budget cyberpunk game of the year with it being thematically consistent about these sorts of things, and having something to say about them, it'd still be a fantastic game to play. While I haven't actually played it since I finished it and wrote about it months ago, I've been thinking about the combat systems a lot lately, because of Yakuza Like a Dragon. Like a Dragon is a great game overall, don't get me wrong, but while I do enjoy its straight up JRPG design, compared to how FFVII Remake so masterfully fuses real time combat and menu driven move selection, Like a Dragon just feels like a missed opportunity to better feel like a JRPG version of Yakuza combat, rather than just a JRPG.
It might not have the same level of combo-driven depth as a game completely devoted to combat (though I've got high expectations for FF XVI given one of the combat designers from Dragon's Dogma and DMC 5 is working on it), but FFVII Remake is not only super fun in the moment, the game is so smartly designed that you really need to use all its systems to succeed. I've played games that try to be both a real time action game, and have some pick moves from menus stuff, but it never gels right. And the games never ask enough of the players to demand it all be used, but here?
This game just has so many thrilling, incredible boss fights. Duels atop skyscrapers, desperate fights against snarling beasts, tussles with mechanical monstrosities, and a battle against malevolent architecture! There's tons of wild, weird, and super fun fights in this game, and none of them feel like retreads of the same thing. Not to say that every one has a unique gimmick, but they all feel different enough, and enough of them require you do different things to open up their weaknesses, stun them for bonus damage, to just avoid their huge attacks, that I'm struggling to think of a game in recent memory that felt this varied with its bosses.
And on top of all that, it's got four playable characters, two of which feel great in everything they do (the two melee ones, Cloud and Tifa), and the other two, well, the ranged combat is maybe the one lacking piece of the puzzle. But both Barret and Aerith have more than enough useful skills that they're vital for success (at least when they're in the party). And switching between them all mid fight, whether to spend some time kicking butt with Tifa, or just to pop off a specific skill at the right moment, it all just works, and feels spot on.
I'm sure I'm just retreading everything I wrote months ago, but those months have only made me appreciate just about every aspect of this game even more than I did then. The mark of a truly great game is that when I think about it, put those thoughts into words, I come away thinking, "I should play that again." And I'm sure I will at some point, but probably a bit closer to whenever Final Fantasy VII Remake 2 is actually announced, and releasing.
Out of everything coming in the next...who knows how many years, how the rest of this remake series is handled is probably the thing I'm most curious about. This one really surpassed my every expectation, and I just want to continue this adventure so much. I know bits and pieces of what happened in the original from osmosis over the years, from listening to spoilercasts for this, but no one outside the people working on them really know what's in store. Will my theories be true? Will the reality be something weirder, something no one saw coming?
I know I'm excited to see whatever is next, and come what may, I'll see Cloud, Aerith, Barret, and Tifa through to the end. Check back in to see if it really does make me cry like FFXV's ending did.
Final Fantasy VII Remake also wins:
- Best Reimagined Soundtrack.
- Most Cats.
- Best Divekicking.
- Best Lines of Dialog About Corporations and "Good People" Serving Them.
- Best Robot/Mecha Design.
- Biggest Swords.
- Best Robot House: Hell House.
- Best Song and Dance Routine Involving Cross-Dressing (in a way that I found cute rather than transphobic like I originally feared).
- Best Minigun Arm.
- Longest Staircases.
- Bess Boss Fights.
- Best End Boss/End Boss Music.
- Best Parrying.
- Best Folding Chair Attack.
- Combat System of the Year.
- AAA Cyberpunk Game of the Year.
The Moosies 2020 Old Games of the Year Part 3: Pyre.
Thinking about Pyre, and writing about it sandwiched between FFVII Remake and, well you'll see soon enough, but I've realized there's a pretty strong theme shared amongst the games that had the biggest impacts on me this year. Not exactly the same, Pyre isn't going after an evil corporation so much as the evils of a totalitarian society, but it's close enough.
Pyre, the one Supergiant game I came to years late, tells the tale of an unnamed, unseen protagonist helping a group of people wronged by society, outcast into a beautiful hellscape, find their way back up to the surface. Eventually, without spoiling too much, help them work toward righting those societal wrongs, and if everything goes according to plan, maybe even bring about a full revolution.
The story, the writing, and the characters are all so spot on, but then factor in all the ways that things can go differently, how characters won't stay with you for the whole journey, and how all of that is directly from your choices. The game literally makes you choose who to give up, who to let go, who is more important to have them leave than to have them with you still.
I had to make some really, really difficult choices throughout Pyre. And even though I got the best possible ending, that didn't make it any easier. Didn't make it still hurt at the end knowing that a few had to be left behind. That one person in particular never got to actually see the fruits of all he worked for in person, with his own eyes...
I may not have especially cared for the sports game part of Pyre, but it was never difficult enough to get in the way, or hamper such a fantastic story. I could go on and on about this and that, but it wasn't even a game released in 2020, and frankly I think people should just play it if they haven't. See the story for yourself, make your own decisions. Trust me, if you skipped out on this game, and especially if you're also itching for more Supergiant style storytelling after Hades, please give Pyre your time. It takes a few hours to get going, but it's well worth it.
1. The Moosies 2020 Game of the Year: Persona 5 Royal.
You really never see it coming, huh? Bought this game almost on a whim, the third in a "buy two get one free" deal. Telling myself, "well, if I don't like it, at least it was basically free." Yet here I am, with this miserable year coming to a close, and this having been the game that left the biggest impact on me. Flaws and all, capital P Problematic elements or not, it's my game of the year.
Despite all that, it's also the one that I'm having the hardest time writing about. For real this time. At least writing this second time, I certainly spilled my heart about it closer to when I finished it. How hard (like other games this year!) its story about going against people who abuse their power hit me this year. About what a deep sense of nostalgia and longing it gave me for my younger years, despite knowing all too well how miserable I was in high school, and college.
How much all those characters meant to me in the immediate aftermath of the game. And now, they all still mean so much. All the goofs, all the heartwarming moments, all the adventures had together. Part of me wants to go down and list each one, but I already did that months ago.
You know, that's something I run into every year when I write these things. I always feel like I'm repeating myself, and I never have any idea how much people actually remember what I wrote earlier in the year. If they even read it at all. That, and I always feel like I'm defending my choices. Like I'm writing an essay, just trying to make a foolproof argument that the teacher can't poke any holes in, and disprove that this really is my game of the year.
Or maybe I'm just thinking about school again, because of this game.
And granted, it certainly has a few things that really stick out as being Capital B Bad. How it undermines its own themes in parts, and can be just plain gross. I'm not defending or excusing those parts of the game so much as saying that in the 151 hours I spent with it, a few things (mostly optional/relating to the romance stuff) weren't enough to ruin my time with the game. We all like things with issues, just a matter of where we draw our lines, and acknowledging when the things we like have things we don't like in them.
But back to the things I do like about it.I said it somewhere earlier here, but I'll repeat myself. If you really want to make a game stick with me, fill it with endearing characters, and just let me spend a lot of time with them. Let me immerse myself in that world, let me feel like I'm really growing closer to them. Growing with them over the course of whatever the main story is. Whether it's a road trip with the bros, fight against the upper echelons of organized crime/the government in Japan, fighting against an evil corporation sucking the world dry, or just going to school with friends. And fighting the government of Japan, again. Starting to get a feeling maybe there's some corruption in there that needs to be dealt with.
And you know what the funny thing is? I've been so bought into that world, into those characters specifically, that maybe the game I'm most looking forward to playing in the near future is Persona 5 Strikers. You know, the Persona 5 Musou (Dynasty Warriors) game. Have I ever played a Dynasty Warriors? Nope! Ever played a Musou style game set in a different universe? Does the Age of Calamity demo count? The point I'm making, is that even if the game part is replaced with a generic hack and slash, I just want to spend more time with those characters. See whatever goofy hijinks they get up to, because in no way am I expecting it to be anything other than charming fan service. And yeah, I mean fan service both in the positive way (like hearing an old joke for the hundredth time, yet it's somehow still funny), and the negative (I bet there's another beach scene). Of course I say all that knowing that the Persona 5 dancing game exists, yet I have no desire to play that, so I dunno.
But real talk, so many things from this game still just elicit immediate feelings from me. I see some fan art of characters, and I remember everything I loved about them from the game. I hear some music, and it brings me straight back to how I felt in the game, whether that's amping up for a big heist, or just chilling in the streets of Tokyo. And I hear that music a lot, because I've got it in my regular rotation of writing music. There's one particular song, one of the ones that plays when just walking about between areas, that's become one I listen to if I need something to just help my relax. It brings me back to walking the streets of fictional Tokyo, just...letting my mind go blank, and forget all my worries for a little while.
I've been so up in my feelings about the game that I almost forgot to even write about the part where it's a JRPG! And a pretty good one, I think. Granted a lot of what makes that part of the game work is that the styyyyyle really is ramped up so dang high, but I still think some of the mechanics are super cool. Like being able to combo from one character to another after exploiting enemies' weaknesses. I wish Like a Dragon had something like that, honestly. It would make weaknesses matter a lot more, for sure. Plus the fact that (after unlocking it) I can swap party members in and out during fights makes everyone useful, which is a feature I think every party based game should have in the future. I hope the Final Fantasy VII Remake devs are paying attention.
And the whole capturing more Personas thing, as much as it sounds like I'm joking, it really evokes a good Pokémon feeling in me. I know I haven't played a Proper Pokémon since the nineties, but I'd be lying if I didn't get a certain "gotta catch them all" vibe from Persona 5. Not that I did catch, or fuse them all, but any time a new one popped up, I definitely went out of my way to try to get it.
The point being that even if the characters and story are the things that stuck with me the most in Persona 5 Royal, all the JRPG parts really clicked together and worked too. I'm sure I would have also enjoyed Persona 5 if it was just a visual novel, but few things got me as excited this year as hearing the heist music kick in. Knowing that it was now or never, and it damn well be now.
This write up, this final recap on the game has been a mess, but that feels appropriate in its own weird way. It was a messy, bad year, and the game that hit me the hardest was one that just let me lose myself in it. One about a group of misfits putting their all into fixing a broken society, all while trying to make the best of their broken lives.
Most of all it's a game about friendship, and I can't think of anything better to build a game around. Or a better one to be my game of the year for 2020.
Persona 5 Royal also wins:
- Most Styyyyyyylish Game.
- Pokémon Game of the Year.
- Most/Best Friends.
- Boisterous Friend of the Year: Ryuji.
- Talking Cat/Automobile/Helicopter Friend of the Year: Morgana.
- Supportive Friend of the Year: Ann.
- "He's trying his best" Friend of the Year: Mishima.
- Extremely Queer-Coded (in a good way if the game would actually let its characters be queer) Starving Artist Friend of the Year: Yusuke.
- Motorcycle Riding Smarty Pants Friend of the Year: Makoto.
- Nerd Friend/Surrogate Little Sister of the Year: Futaba.
- Shy Rich Girl Who Really Should Have Footed the Bill More Often Friend of the Year: Haru.
- "I have too much on my plate and too much anxiety over not being good enough" Friend of the Year: Kasumi.
- Coffee Dad (also friend) of the Year: Sojiro.
- "You love to hate him" "Friend" of the Year: "Slimeball" Akechi.
- Best Jazzy/Heist-y/Overall Soundtrack.
- Best Original Song: Take Over.
- Best game to just walk around letting it all wash over me, soaking it all in, chilling.
- Best Heists.
- Best Fishing Minigame.
- Best Crossword Puzzles.
- Best Fake TV Show Names: X-Folders, Guy McVer.
- Best Sneaking "Whoosh" Sound.
- Best "Hee-hoing": Jack Frost.
- Best Attacking and Dethroning God.
- Biggest Burgers.
Hopes for the Future.
In years past, I always end my Moosies with predictions for the year to come. Mostly they're not anywhere near correct, and I know that, because I try to come up with funny or ridiculous things that I know won't happen. This year though, I just don't have it in me to try to predict anything, so instead, I'm leaving with some hopes for things I...hope will happen, at least within the realm of games.
I hope that the games industry as a whole can make meaningful progress in bettering work conditions. Crunch, abusive bosses, etc have become bigger and bigger focuses over the last few years. It sucks that so many games come from such bad conditions, but it doesn't have to be that way. It shouldn't be that way. I'm not naïve enough to think that everything can magically become better in one year, but I still hope that people keep working toward that goal.
I hope that the big three consoles get better about what they let through cert. I have high tolerances for bad framerates, if I didn't Marvel's Avengers wouldn't be on this list. Heck, Control was my number three game of last year, and if I'm being honest, I don't think that game should have gotten through cert on PS4 (or Xbox One)! But between Dead2y Premonition, and all the hubbub around Cyberpunk, I think it's become too much, and Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft need to finally put their feet down and stop this. To actually act like they care about consumers for once.
I hope that consoles actually get widely available. I want a PS5, damn it! I've realized this year just how bad my fear of missing out can get, and it turns out it's pretty bad. So it sucks that several of my friends get to enjoy all the coolness of the PS5, but I (and lots of other people) can't!
I hope that whatever new hardware Nintendo probably announces in 2021, that it doesn't make me too mad. That significant rumors of the Switch Pro began circulating about a month after I finally broke down, gave into my FOMO and bought a Switch has already made me mad. The idea that I could have just waited another year, and the only good things I would have missed out on were Paper Mario and the zeitgeist around Hades is, well, it makes me mad! I wish these companies would be more transparent about these things, but of course they never will. They'd rather sucker people into buying multiple things.
And of course, I hope the games are good. There's a lot of potentially really great games on the horizon, and I'd love if they all live up to and exceed expectations. Too many to list here, on all platforms (well maybe not Xbox (I'm kidding, I hope Halo Infinite is good too)), but I think the future of video games looks cool.
I hope it is, anyway.
Well, there's my yearly Moosies. It was a weird year, and I think that's reflected in this. I wrote all this over the course of a couple weeks, bit by bit, and maybe that's evident in the writing, but hopefully not in too negative a way. I hope you enjoyed reading this, and while I'm not going to commit to writing about every game I play in 2021, I'll write about all the ones that inspire me to put something into words. And I look forward to it!
And of course, thank you for reading. It's always appreciated. <3