Yours Truly's 2020 Game of the Year Awards

I had feared that this year would have been one of much personal toil and stress. New job. New reality. New life choices. That sorta thing.

But due to a once-a-century pandemic, I had time to play more than I would have otherwise. Old games, new games, games I would have ignored from deep in my backlog. Here's to silver linings, I guess.

Kentucky Route Zero missed this list at #11, but missed the cut due to "character as writer's mouthpiece" , being a bit twee about many scenes rendering much of the overarching plot and message as a trudge from one to another, and romanticizing a very bleak subject that fails to seperate the wheat from the chaff as it were.

List items

  • ...for a year which taught us the value of quality law enforcement that serves ALL of us...

    Having emerged on the other side of all Trails games released out of Japanese, I've come to appreciate the scale that the series works best at: slow like award-winning BBQ, with wheel-within-wheel payoff structure so that even in the slow parts for the main plot, smaller vignettes popping off, with intensely well-written Trails Conversations setting up neat changes in characters and/or scope...and Zero abounds in it.

    We the players know Crossbell as we get marinated in it in a way no city in any RPG I can think of comes close to doing. Its almost like how a (good) Dungeon Crawler's dank halls are known to a victorious player as well as their own town. Crossbell isn't a slapdash collection of amenities to be blown past, and even uses the series' famed NPC arcs in exciting new ways towards the end.

    Stellar soundtrack, bounding with a technical twang mellowed out by the homely exurbs of the city-state and the mysterious ambience from the lore's supernatural edge. It's like Sky:FC's soundtrack: it's so sophisticated and self-assured.

    The characters do a number on the usual Trails structure in that there's almost no main character; Lloyd isnt used like Estelle, Kevin, or Rean but is more a first-amongst-equals in a tight dynamic harmony. I appreciate that, and it helps sell when one of them, or one of the supporting cast, gets limelight or converge with the main plot deftly.

    I really can't think of one real failing in this; it's like the 3rd: a game with only the most minor of flaws, showing the world the series at its best.

  • ...a very stupid game made by madmen, from Finland where good games are made...

    So, it's a Roguelike but with one corner cut: there's no time pressure mechanic. This makes for two unique factors, one: that you can farm gold like a mofo to buy out shops later on in the games Holy Mountain "rest areas", and two, it allows for...and I cant really state this without breaking a third of what makes it so great, but here goes...getting to the end boss and killing it isn't but a fraction of the game. There's a whole world outside that mine you seem to be destined to enter at the beginning.

    The latest balance/new feature patch fixed the game's one true flaw (of not having anything of value to buy in shops/find in the world but cash/potions) making the games wand-building mechanic something you'd actually get to play with more than a third of the time. Creating seas of lava? Turning lava seas into blood with spells? Making enemies hit by your spells throw off fireballs until they die? "Machine gun wands"? It's a fun system that begs to be played with until you blow yourself to smithereens fooling around with Thunderbolt YET AGAIN.

  • ...from hell's heart I stab at thee, one, more, time...

    I can taste the quality in this one. Understated narration, and a story treatment to a Roguelite that benefits from all that jabbering very elegantly. An audiovisual feast.

    Could use a bit fewer freeze-frame-wind-up-than-instattack though, but that's an evergreen complaint everywhere now.

  • ...for those who got Spelunky 1 and La Mulana 1 confused an awful lot for some reason...

    Yu had a real time of it with this, a sequel to one of the few nigh-perfect games to exist, and adding More did the trick largely, more secrets, more enemies, more levels, more items, more horrifying ways to die like a bitch, but with a price.

    Multiplayer was borked and still is dicey. Some levels are much harder than others and seemingly out of order (Temple FAR outstrips anything till the Cosmic Ocean in terms of sheer lethality), sap the quality from this down from its predecessor a bit.

    There's other things that are different but not bad; the game seems to revel in sorting out in the exact opposite way from 1. Knocking over shopkeeps is much less effectual now, as is using backpacks, but other things are buffed.

    Then as I alluded to earlier, everything beating the regular end boss goes deeeeeeeeep La Mulana, with only the barest hints that something is even there in many cases for that special community-sourced discovery spice.

  • ...for the world is your oyster...

    One part FF4, one part Sid Meier's Pirates!, one part Final Fantasy Tactics, slap on some neat UI/UX stuff like grab and drag windows/elements, and we have a real treat here.

    Its self-confident, striding from sea battles, to SRPG land battles, to economy, to tales of betrayal and realpolitik without any hiccup. It's nice. I like how the portraits have this circa-1990 early-16 Bit look but still have facial expressions to go along with it. Great tunes. And that multi-choice end goal system!

  • ...this looks like the entrance to a dark and lonely place. just the thing I need...

    This one is even more on the nose than Zero. Merging the Adventure and Autoplayer genres in an almost flippant and self-indulgent way, it couldn't have come during A MORE PERTINENT YEAR. Bizarre, indifferent, and almost saucily-depressive, it fits.

  • ...what would you do for just one more day...

    I usually shy away from tragically hip fare, but Necro has such a heart to it and doesnt fall flat with its worldview tackling life, death, goals, and principles. I gotta commend that. Knife-wielding children, greek chorus robots, undead outlaws, and double espresso lattes work together somehow.

    I also gotta commend the world-class choreography going on here. Limited motion? Lets get Akiyama on that ass with expert cut after expert cut. It's criminal so few people know how to do this after like, what? 25 years in a post-optical media world?

    Didnt care for how Kishan was used; he felt like a plot device half the time.

  • ...systemic is a way of life...

    Oddly-translated, full of a myriad of ideas frankensteined together yet it works, T:AC goes at the Xcom tactical shooter, SRPG, and management sim, it's exuberant, creative, and manages to not crater under its own weight.

    Could do with more LoS beyond Cover mechanics though.

    I need to finish this.

  • ...take that which is your birthright...

    I never would have expected such a deep cut getting a second offering, over two decades from the original, but here we are. Part Dragon Force, part SRPG, but now with super-slick art and super-slick music (ok, they also balanced and fleshed out the systems in this as well). A good game that will serve you well if you're looking for a monster 'n conquest for about 30 hours or so.

    Some janky translation and odd menu behavior could need some work.

  • ...Kotaro Uchikoshi's Mass Effect 3...

    This is kind of the exact opposite of Zero: desperately seeking quantity and filling time with whatever on-hand. Its sad, cuz this is the end of the entire first half of the series, but over-usage of special places and themes, confusion over the main antagonists, ATROCIOUS character assassinations, the shoehorned harem scarem, too many redemption arcs that not only are unearned or have any point but wear out ones' welcome for when they are earned, and general stretching to no point whatsoever. It even causes plot holes!

    This strains a narrative that actually does quite well for the majority of the game, characters ricocheting off each other, the main plot itself is framed well from a realpolitik way, and you get really interesting mixtures of people past and present going off on trajectories that fit; all of which is no small feat for a cast this large. Yes, I know it was a knock by some, but even at one point amounting to FOURTY-NINE playables, it still worked surprisingly well. Even adding into the mix the scads of NPCs on their journeys and it still works.

    Combat is the most refined of the CSes, it no longer betrays its "channelized overpoweredness" of previous titles. Music is good, but that's baseline for JDK.