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Favorite Games of 2021

I say this every year, but I still really enjoy doing these in the summer of the following year. Its nice having a lot of time and space away, not just for myself to catch up and reflect on games I played last year but also for games themselves to get patched up and improved.

Honorable Mention for games that dont have wiki pages yet:

Recipe for Disaster

Restaurant management sim with Sims artstyle/building tools. Its not all the way there yet but I really liked what I've played of it so far. Granted I started on hard, but I found it confusing at first to get going and understand all the systems. A lot of indicators aren't very clear, but can be hilarious to read. But I eventually figured it out and from there on the gameplay loop is very engaging, juggling the different needs of employees, customers, and the restaurant itself. Very satisfying, very rewarding to watch your restaurant grow while developing the skills of everyone you hire. I like the amount of customization, both from the different game setups to how your player character looks to the different uniform options. Definitely looking forward to revisiting this game closer to it being finished, hopefully with more, fancier restaurant options.

Chessplosion

Chess bullet hell, chess bomberman, etc. Neat concept.

ChefSquad

Overcooked but with twitch chat. Very cool idea, I'm glad I was following a couple streamers who got very into it for a while when it came out. Fun chaotic mess, but even with just a few people it easily turns the chat into an unusable, incoherent stream of nonsense.

List items

  • In many ways a perfect opening chapter to a (new) series that really needed a strong, fresh start. Does a tremendous job of introducing so much new to this universe-between the Calvard region, the different cities and neighborhoods you go to, all the different players and factions sniffing around including many familiar faces from previous series, and of course the new cast and everyone within each of their social circles-with interesting scenarios that engage the different groups while fully maintaining the understanding that it's all merely a teaser for what's to come. Everything gets its due time for you to learn and become familiar with, so by the time this game finishes and kuro 2 starts you feel fully prepared and comfortable as different parties start making their moves on the region. The way Van's background integrates with the last decade of Zemuria is fascinating to me, and feels incredibly organic and obvious in context of everything that came before.

    Having said all that, the story in this game is still great, with strong emotional arcs and only leaves me more excited for the rest of the Kuro series. In particular, this game narratively and thematically addresses many nagging issues Ive had with Falcoms style of storytelling in the past. For a game marketed so heavily on the corny and binary looking alliance system, it honestly blew me away. It is immediate and consistent throughout the game, and continually surprised me with the way they handle ideas and storylines that they have tried and failed to deliver on before. Specifically, even as the opening chapter this is a game (and series) with very real stakes, and constantly reinforces that while forcing its characters through difficult, complex situations with the same level of attention and care as Falcom has always treated its lighter, more slice of life character development. Van is the central figure encapsulating all of this. In spirit and in his literal place in Zemuria history, Van represents someone who has seen or heard about everything this series has presented before, and thus has a unique perspective towards this world only really intelligible by someone who has experienced the same. In some ways a reflection, in other ways a direct response to the many obstacles faced by previous protagonists. Through him, the rest of the characters are pulled into a pretty different type of story compared to previous Trails games. The cast is generally very likeable, with many memorable side characters who are primed to become bigger players in the future. The fact that most of the cast are adults, who are no longer in a school setting, is incredibly refreshing after 4 games of Thors.

    The new engine is not flawless, but I love how all the character models look in this game and that to me is the most important part. There is a nice, clean style to most locations and buildings that feels like a distinct step up from hajimari and cs3/4, even if backgrounds are still a bit muddy in spots and they could use a greater variety of npc models. The new combat system is fairly basic, but still neat to see in action. I definitely expect them to iterate on it with the sequels, but even as is it does well to justify its existence as a way to speed up and freshen the all familiar dungeon grinds. The traditional turn based combat is still the heart of these games, and there are interesting changes here too, but it will be exciting to have both available going forward.

    The soundtrack in Kuro is excellent as is expected for these darn Falcom games, but this game in particular impressed me with how much character there is to most big tracks. More than most if not all the other Trails OSTs that I've really enjoyed, the many themes in Kuro really feel exactly fitting the bosses and characters theyre tied to, leaving a resonant lasting impression as I have listened to the different tracks afterwards.

    The only real knocks I had against Kuro were its performance issues at launch. For the rest of last year after I finished both games, Lost Judgment was my goty pretty much because of that alone. It wasn't persistent through the entire game, but where it came up it was disruptive enough to significantly hamper the experience to that degree. However, they put out a performance patch basically the day after I finished the game that addressed every issue I had as well as adding some nice qol features to where I now feel very strongly about putting this over Lost Judgment. That being said, I think both are excellent for many different reasons, and would still be happy with either atop my list.

  • I think this is the best story they have done. Incredibly well paced, takes a couple chapters to set things up and gather all the players together, but once it does it is highly compelling and never loses steam all the way through to the end. I like that this game has very little to do with the story of the first game, to the point where I could easily recommend this to someone who never played or finished the first game. Whereas first judgment is very personally connected to the protagonist's own battles, this game is Yagami stepping into other people's tangled, murderous mess, allowing him to fully embrace the detached, visiting detective role while examining everyone around him. I ended up doing very little of the side stuff because I never wanted to put down the main story. I might end up going back after the dlc is out, but at this point I still have not gone back and feel completely satisfied with my experience enough to put it here.

    The combat is as good as it has been with this new engine, and makes a welcome return after y7. All the great heat actions are still there from judgment, but the emphasis on moment to moment combat addressed my biggest issue with combat in the first judgment. The game still looks incredible, with some breathtaking set pieces for bigger fights.

    As someone who wasn't as high on their last few games (y6, judgment, y7) as most people, I was not exactly excited for this game when so much of the marketing/pre-release footage centered on being in high school dealing with bullying kids. Not exactly the most interesting sounding crime/mystery story setup to me, so this game came as a pleasant surprise and leaves me optimistic for what they do next. Whereas Kuro is a big bold jrpg that likely represents the first third of a 500hr trilogy, Lost Judgment is a tight, focused game that packs so much punch and never lets up (unless you want to with all the side stuff).

  • Perfect for what it is, easily the most pleasant game of the year for me. It's a cool feeling for a game I've been eagerly anticipating for years now to deliver exactly what I wanted and expected out of it. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the final product is the amount of subtle environmental storytelling capturing the experience of growing up in a way that's as universally affecting as anything else I've experienced. Everyone will be struck differently by different aspects in each room, and it was great talking to people about specific elements or items that resonated with them in their playthrough. It adds so much value for a fairly short game like this to be able to revisit it so much and keep finding new subtle details that I had not noticed before. The artstyle is soothing but also surprisingly effective for depicting minimal yet easily identifiable nostalgia objects like game and dvd covers. Worth mentioning the incredible sound design as well. All around excellent experience that more than lived up to the hype.

  • Space QWOP! Probably the funniest game I played this year but equally satisfying as a physicsy puzzle game about accomplishing relatively simple tasks, but in space. I only played on Newtonian mode, but watching people swim around on the normal mode is very goofy and entertaining even if I still think it enables bad mechanical habits and fundamentals. On newtonian physics it is challenging and requires a lot of patience, but at least feels somewhat realistic and is quite rewarding to learn and get good at. The story is nice and doesnt overstay its welcome, the different environments and tasks you are given are always interesting, and the overall aesthetic is fairly soothing and cathartic.

  • I hadn't played or seen the first Psychonauts before starting this, so had no idea what to expect outside of seeing the teeth level in trailers. I was pleasantly surprised by not just its weird premise and world, but the thorough, thoughtful, creative, and clever execution of everything in the game, resulting in a insightful experience that feels very appropriately timed for when its coming out and the audience playing it. Every level is so charming and whimsical, while constantly stopping to reflect on our equally weird messy minds. My main gripe is with how this game plays in certain frustrating sections-such as having to hold items for long periods while running around, or fast moving areas where you're often trying to do multiple actions very quickly-where it can be very annoying to redo a dozen times. I think the game plays fine for the most part, obvious complaint about the skill slots aside, but there are enough of those specific sections that come up through the game that add up and take something away from an otherwise highly engaging, enjoyable experience.

    Note: Psychonauts 2, Ratchet, and Ys9 are virtually tied here to me. They all represent very similar games to me, as relatively short, standalone action games that I had a great time with.

  • An entertaining thrill-ride that is thoroughly fun to play from start to finish. As my first Ratchet and Clank game I was a bit surprised by how shooty it is, but all the weapons feel great to use and always made me want to find more goons and combat arenas to fight and use them on. Rivet is a fun addition, the story is light and goofy, never taking itself too seriously. Definitely has the feel and production values of a AAA blockbuster, the big set pieces are in line with an uncharted and feel great to play. Having said that, my experience with this game was surprisingly buggy even months after release. Most of it was relatively minor like issues with the shop, but a couple during the final stage that required redoing certain sections a few times were hard to ignore and dampened my final impression with the game.

  • As my first full Ys game, I was surprisingly disappointed for a game I generally had a great time playing. Its a very good video game ass video game, but I did not realize how much less voice acting there is compared to Trails games and how much that would affect me playing. It's still there and good for main story scenes, but its noticeably gone while running around town or the dungeons. While I love the soundtrack and the way it fits this game, it by itself wasnt enough to shake these constant lingering thoughts i had while fighting voiceless monster bosses and grinding through dungeons.

    That being said this game does feel great as you'd expect from one of these games, and definitely well worth playing for me. All the characters feel different and fun, and it was satisfying to experiment with new characters until I found reliable combos I liked using. The mobility to fly around, jump around, and climb up anything feels incredible. Being set in a prison city, theres an effective, cohesive tone between the music and the look that reinforces the constant oppressive feeling of being stuck and caged in. Feels very different from the free and openness of ys8. While I wouldn't say I liked it more than 8, I can certainly appreciate how much 9 lands what its going for, and I still had a very good time with it.

  • Delightfully charming, goofy game that proudly wears all of its influences on its sleeves. I've been wanting a dodgeball game forever, and while this isn't exactly what I had in mind and leaves me wanting more, this is very good in its own right and I had a great time with it. While it might be hit or miss with some people, I enjoyed all of the dumb humour, writing and the overall presentation. The dodgeball gameplay is fun and has interesting wrinkles, but does get a bit repetitive with just how much of it you do. The story is fun and unabashedly generic shonen.

  • The hitman formula is still good. I thought the maps were a mixed bag, but the good ones are always great to replay over and over. Game looks breathtaking at times, and you can really see the james bond esque influence from the opening cinematic. It was nice seeing the story take center stage as they conclude this trilogy, with the final chapter being a very different yet fitting conclusion.

  • Didn't like it as much as the second game, but still quite good for what it is in the same ways as the previous games. Its harder to invoke the same type of nostalgia with facebook, especially now with what that has turned into, but it tries and is still mostly effective pulling at the same types of social hooks to force you into different, sometimes very familiar situations.

  • Ultimately, I think I appreciate this game for existing in 2021 more than I enjoyed playing it. That's not to say I didn't like it, but a big, fully fleshed, RTS coming out now is kind of unfathomable so I'm glad its out and generally well liked. As a game, I think it does a commendable job of trying to strike the balance between iterating on one of the best games ever made while trying to modernize features in ways to make it feel like its own game. In that regard I think it succeeds. The game feels very familiar in structure and themes, but quite different in execution between the look, the focus on fewer, more differentiated civilizations, and the overall flow of gameplay. On the other hand, a lot of it feels rather clunky and sloppy in execution. For example, I like the overall look of the game, but the color palette makes units indistinguishable from each other when youre looking at your units. I like how Mongols play so differently from Abbassids from Delhi, but I'm not sure how much that lends itself to creative playstyles. It's definitely a slower paced game which automates more for you compared to its contemporaries, which can be a convenient change coming from aoe2 or sc2, but it definitely feels like a slog at times trying to move units around or micromanage everything. The campaigns are presented very well and engaging, but I wish they were smaller, more focused, and more interesting to play. This game also did not release in the best shape, but I'm not worried about them continuing to iron things out. Being on gamepass and supported by microsoft has its benefits. As with the previous games, the soundtrack and sound design are incredible. I love the cue when battles starts, when cannons are firing away, and units speaking their language will always be a nice touch with these games.

  • (I'll finish some day) It's old pokemon and I like the old pokemon games. I dont mind how it looks. Sinnoh is cool, and having contests back is nice.

  • (played a few hours) ill get back to this game at some point when i have time. Wanted to finish it before the new year but ran out of time trying to play other, shorter, more engaging games. Still, I've played enough to have a fine but mixed initial impression. This game looks like the most expensive anime game I've played or seen, but lacks substance that makes it jarring tonally coming directly from something like Kuro which is the complete opposite. It's not a problem per se, I don't mind a dumb anime story, and I've had a good time with it so far playing it with the right mindset for what it is.

  • Glad this finally released after following it since they started in early access. Fairly janky indie rpg, but I like what I've played of it so far. This is one of those games where I regret getting into it so early because at this point I've played the opening sequence a dozen times, so feel fatigued to keep going. The production values aren't great, the combat is okay, but the big cat is always fun to ride around.

  • One of the cooler BR ideas, and was fun when it was still fresh. Its a shame that it seems to have run out of life, but I had a great time in my couple weeks with it. I just hope it still has some players while they keep working on it.

  • The cars are very pretty. It was fun to crash around and do some of the jumps and speed challenges the first week. But after finishing those there was very little left I had any interested in doing.

  • Easily the most disappointing game of the year for me. The shame for me is that, even now, I really like how this game plays mechanically: the amount of variance and subtleties it accounts for, the ways characters react to your choices and behaviour, the little easter eggs some of which can wipe your entire progress if you fail to catch them. This game can be hilarious if you do not take it seriously at all and just try to test the boundaries of different interactions. From that standpoint, it delivered pretty much what I wanted when I watched videos from 6 years prior and from listening to the developer talk about this game in the years after.

    That being said, this game is a complete narrative mess that only gets progressively worse as you unravel more of its reveals. I still enjoyed the suspense of not knowing anything on my first playthrough, but its hard to understate how much of a trainwreck this game is and somehow finds ways to keep digging itself into the ground all the way to the end.