By LtSquigs 5 Comments
This year had too many good games in it, and I wanted to write too much about all of them. However, writing is hard and I'm lazy, so I just picked my top 5 and wrote a lot about them instead. So heres a bunch of words about my top 5 games of this year, and below that, I also have my 6-10 without a bunch of words because I got tired of writing.
1. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 3
I skipped the Trails games for a long time for a really dumb reason: The name sounded so generic that I figured it was some low rent budget type of game that wasn't worth the time to play. Every time Steam would pop it up in my recommendation feed and insist that I would really like this series, I laughed it off and took a pass on it.
Then last year, on a lark I decided to play Trails in the Sky FC, because I had nothing better to do with my time. Shortly after I proceeded to binge every Trails game I could find (in spite of them being 70-80 hour games), because I discovered that someone had made a JRPG series that targeted the *exact* things I wanted out of a JRPG.
There is a lot to love about the Trails games, but the thing that makes it somewhat a rarity in the field of JRPGs is the commitment to having a long running continuous storyline that spans many games. That may be an odd statement in a genre known for its lengthy games, but in the JRPG genre most sequels do their best to separate themselves from their predecessors in order to make sure that they can bring in new players with each new game.
With the Trails games, however, there’s an assumption the players have played most (if not all of) the games and as a result are bought into the world enough that they can be written with that assumed knowledge. The end result is a series of games that have the kind of long term World Building and interwoven Plots and story Mechanisms that you just don’t see in a lot of game franchises.
Which is all to say, the writing of Trails of Cold Steel 3 is excellent. Not without its flaws (the Cold Steel series in general leans too much into certain modern anime tropes that it doesn’t need too), but still one of the best in the genre. On top of that, the game brings a lot of improvements to the Cold Steel battle system, general improvements in the quality of graphics, and just a lot of nice little polish and upgrades on top of previous games.
This would be a hard game to recommend anyone to actually play, given how much of a time investment this series is, but I can think of very few games that payoff that investment as consistently and as well as the Trails series does.
2. Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers™
Another game that requires quite a lot of time investment. This year felt like somewhat of a watershed moment for FFXIV, and a large part of that is thanks to this expansion.
Most people are probably familiar, by now, with the story of the death and rebirth of Final Fantasy XIV. However, while the player base has seen steady growth over time, this feels like the first year where the larger mainstream audience (and media) has started to realize that XIV isn’t just impressive for its revival, it’s impressive because its one of the greatest Final Fantasy games produced.
A large part of that shift in view is due to the excellent writing of Shadowbringers™. You even have people out there claiming that ShB is perhaps the best story of a Final Fantasy game. A claim that I would tend to agree with! (In part because I have a lower opinion of the average FF story than others, but also because ShB is quite good!).
One of the most incredible aspects of Shadowbringers™ is how every part of it just feels like the development team was just 100% nailing it. The cutscenes? More detailed than ever. The battle system? Everything feels great. Fight mechanics? Some of the most fun yet. The music? Incredible. (This game was robbed not being on the VGA list)
It just feels like, in so many ways, with this expansion the development team has really hit a strong stride, perhaps due to the confidence gained at how much praise has been heaped on the other expansion as well.
As with Trails, XIV can be a hard recommendation due to the time investment it requires, but also as with Trails, that large time investment is paid one hundred fold.
3. Kingdom Hearts 3
No one likes reading about Kingdom Hearts, mostly because at this point your mind is probably already fully made up on how you feel about the series. So let me write about Kingdom Hearts.
I loved this game. In one of Tim Rogers video reviews of this game, he decided to use the word generous to describe the Kingdom Hearts series as a whole, and I’ve started to steal that from him when talking about the game, because I have realized that’s what makes me care about these games.
In spite of the kudzu plot, in spite of the weird Disney integrations, in spite of the wacky names and weird concepts, what has always struck me about the KH series, is how intent it is on getting you to feel *something*. The game does not shy from large moments where it just piles on the feelings incredibly thick, and those moments work for me. Sometimes those are incredibly cheesy, sometimes they make your eyes roll, but if you open up your heart a bit, the sheer earnestness of KH can overwhelm you.
Late in the game of KH3 (Spoilers), there’s a moment where a bunch of keyblades representing the users of KHx help Sora fight back one of his enemies. That sentence probably makes no sense to anyone who isn’t bought in to KH, and is probably even off putting. However, that moment moved me to tears, because every single one of those keyblades had the actual character names of the people who played KHx attached to them. Thinking about these long time fans playing the game, getting to this point, and seeing their name show up brought me such joy that I couldn’t help but cry a bit.
To me those kind of moments are Kingdom Hearts.
4. Disco Elysium
For a long time, the western RPG world has been obsessed with trying to give players Choices in their games, but Disco Elysium is the first one I’ve played where it feels like every choice I make actually has weight.
One of the hardest struggles with making a game around Choices is not telegraphing the result of those choices before you do them. After all, if you don’t make it clear to the player that The Choice they are about to make will cut them out of content, they may get angry or feel tricked.
Additionally often times as well the actual results of these Choices will be suspiciously similar, or be suspiciously limited, due to the practicality of not throwing away resources you’ve spent money developing during your game.
Disco Elysium solves these problems with a shotgun approach to their choices. Pretty much every single thing you do in the game affects something else in the game. From the smaller, a dialogue choice ingratiating you to a character improving your conversation choices in other branches, to the bigger, permanently closing off any further dialogue with a character. Every little dialogue option you choose in this game has the potential to cascade out to many many other areas.
The result is something that feels incredibly stressful to play in some ways, but incredibly exciting as well as you see these choices slowly compound and influence each other. It also adds an incredible amount of weight to every dialogue option you chose, forcing you to sit through and really think about how the characters your talking to will respond to your actions.
Disco Elysium is definitely not a game for everyone. I think a lot of people will bounce off this game from the stress of just how many options your presented with at every moment, or from the general cynical tone of the world/story and its ideological stances. However, for me the sheer scale of the way every choice in this game propagates throughout it has me in awe.
5. Super Mario Maker 2
Super Mario Maker is an incredible concept. So many people play and love Mario games that giving people the ability to make their own levels and share them in retrospect seems obvious. In spite of that, Super Mario Maker for me, kind of floundered under the weight of its own ambition.
While the concept of the original game was great, it struggled in its implementation. You could create levels, but (unless you were internet famous) likely couldn’t find many people to play them. You could try to play levels, but finding *good* levels to play was a nightmare. You either needed to have levels recommended to you by other people (good if you had an audience), suffer through 100 man (no quality control, mostly garbage levels), or just play the most popular ones (easy levels, almost all auto levels or music levels).
These problems are what ultimately made me sour on SMM1 as a game. When you could find good levels, it felt incredible to play, but the frustration of finding those levels was just too great. Similarly, creating levels could be fun, but then when no one played them or gave you feedback on them… well that wasn’t much fun at all.
With Super Mario Maker 2 however, these problems have been reduced considerably (although not necessarily thanks to Nintendo). On the level creation front, there are now many places online you can go to share/talk about your levels, in large part thanks to the strong community the game has built. More importantly, though, is that it is *much* easier now to find levels to play at a difficulty that matches what you want, thanks to the options/filters that have been added to the course world section of the game.
On top of all that, SMM2 just has so many more tools and settings than MM1 had. I won’t list them all here, but the addition of Night Mode to tilesets and the On/Off switches alone have exploded the possibilities for level creation. Resulting in a lot more variety in the type of levels that are out there to play.
The end result of all of this, is that every week this year I’ve been able to jump onto SMM2 and find 10-12 good levels at the difficulty I like to play at, and that still blows my god damn mind.
The Rest of my GOTY that I got tired of writing long blogs about
6. Links Awakening
7. Pokemon Sword and Shield
8. Monster Hunter: Iceborne
9. Dragon Quest Builders 2
10. Cadence of Hyrule
EDIT: Yo I forgot Celeste Ch9 was earlier this year. If I had remembered it would be #4 on this list and push everything down one