List of Games Beaten in 2021

Blarg. What games I beat. A list of them. Is what this is.

Man, twelfth one of these now, huh? You'd think I'd find something better to write up in here after all that time. Like an apposite Robert Frost quote or something. Ah well, the road not taken and all that (who even said that? Keanu Reeves?).

Disclaimers:

  • If I talk about how something is the "____th 2017 game," I'm referring to this blog series. You can get more in-depth reviews of the related games there.
  • If something's an "Indie Game of the Week" I've written about that in more detail elsewhere too. Click the item to go to its game page and then the Forum tag to find the review.

List items

  • 02/01. The first 2017 game of the year. Another one of these atmospheric horror puzzle-platformers that leans a lot on its perturbingly lumpy enemy designs and dour setting. Some minor issues with its interface didn't sour what was a brief but richly detailed playthrough. (4 Stars.)

  • 08/01. The two-hundred-and-first Indie Game of the Week. After the big 200 milestone, went back to basics with this 2D explormer based on Slavic mythology. Nothing too impressive or novel, but a solid enough "one of those" that I had a fair time with. (4 Stars.)

  • 19/01. The two-hundred-and-second Indie Game of the Week. I made it seem like I felt affronted by this game's many dick moves, what with creating a blog titled "I Was Affronted By This Game's Many Dick Moves" and all, but I actually appreciated its candor and a return to "old-school" difficulty; apropos for the equally old-school grid-based first-person dungeon crawler genre it homages. More a Wizardry than a Dungeon Master, Operencia is rich with lore (based on Slavic mythology again) and has some smart innovations to the format including character customization that you can endlessly re-tune. (4 Stars.)

  • 21/01. The two-hundred-and-third Indie Game of the Week. A leisurely mystery adventure game about a disastrous space exploration mission in a distant star system. Piecing together the particulars of what happened one breaking bad planetside scenario at a time was a great slow burn approach to storytelling, and even if some of the character graphics were iffy the alien vistas and mechanical graphics generally looked pretty stunning. Reminded me of The Dig and Mission Critical, very much in a good way. (4 Stars.)

  • 22/01. The second 2017 game of the year. Cute little action game about a bird shooting their own hotel guests in order to appease some health inspectors, though it's a bit too short and not all that involved for my liking. A modest game for a platforming fan looking for a modest time. (3 Stars.)

  • 23/01. Elaborate rice-farming sim and 2D brawler that proved to be quite a bit more challenging and involved than I anticipated. The farming doesn't just generate consumables: it's integral to the stat development of the title character, given she's half harvest goddess, and making sure to complete all thirty-eight (maybe an embellishment) stages of a rice growing season correctly is the most effective way to succeed in the more combat-heavy exploration mode. That side of things plays a bit more like Viewtiful Joe in that there's a heavy emphasis on juggles and combos and hitting enemies into other enemies to start a highly damaging chain reaction.

    The game does not pull its punches, from the macro to the micro: as well as surviving the tough battles and getting the harvest right (which gets as granular as putting the correct amount of insecticide in fertilizer and making sure the water levels in the paddy are always just so), you have a strict time limit per day, need to consider foe weaknesses and your own statistical shortcomings or else get blindsided by new enemy types and bosses, and also ponder the quality and rarity of the ingredients that go into the meal eaten the night before to ensure you have the most cost-effective buffs for your next outing. It's a demanding game on every level, but rewarding in the way that hard graft and eventual success through much failure and adversity can sometimes be. As someone who hates hard work though, I have to admit to only mostly tolerating it. (4 Stars.)

  • 23/01. The third 2017 game of the year. It's a HOPA, so if you've played one of them you've played them all. This one stands out a little more because of its insane premise - the daughter of a kidnapped inventor in 1900 goes out to rescue him, and during the course of her adventures steals a Zeppelin and falls in love with Albert Einstein - but it's otherwise the same mix of inventory and hidden object puzzles they all are. (3 Stars.)

  • 28/01. The two-hundred-and-fourth Indie Game of the Week. A hauntingly beautiful puzzle-platformer about a mourning woman who rediscovers the color in her life, figuratively and literally, as she goes through the grieving process. Very much aimed at the Journey "games are art" set, this is one you'll want to play largely for the audio and visuals rather than its more straightforward gameplay. (4 Stars.)

  • 30/01. This might be my least favorite Uchikoshi work along with the last chapter of the Zero Escape trilogy, but it's still a damn fine game. Put in the gummy shoes of a gumshoe that works for ABIS (Advanced Brain Investigation Squad), which means he's trained to enter the heads of suspects and witnesses to learn valuable clues from their dreams and memories, the player is tasked with solving the murder of one Shoko Nadami, whose body is found missing her left eye. Creating some interpersonal awkwardness is the fact that the protagonist, Date, knows Shoko and is currently fostering her daughter Mizuki at the father's request. What results is a twisty murder mystery that breaks into many different branching paths, each of which terminates in a non-canonical ending that nonetheless spits up a valuable clue about the case that helps with the other routes (indeed, some of these routes are temporarily closed off until you learn more). The game splits at what it calls its Somnium sequences: when you're inside someone's head, trying to figure out how to progress deeper into their memories and find out what they know.

    While the writing is generally excellent - able to inspire dread, laughter, heartbreak, suspense, curiosity, and fremdschämen whenever applicable - it is a little too eager to overindulge in crude humor about porn and boobs that starts to get tiring fast. I get that Uchikoshi (or whichever writer was in charge that day) is riffing on the lascivious hero of City Hunter and other playboys like him, but it's hard to take the protagonist seriously when he's so single-minded about motorboating them tig ol' bitties. The ancillary characters, like your various female partners Aiba (an AI that lives in your eye socket, don't ask), Mizuki (the aforementioned foster child), and A-Set (a pink-haired teenage internet streamer who maybe knows more about the case than she lets on), tend to be more fun with their reactive exasperation and one-liners. The Somnium chapters meanwhile are hobbled by an obnoxious time limit that extends to every action - just walking takes up precious seconds, but some actions can devour entire minutes unless you figure out a way to mitigate the loss - and every puzzle ultimately boils down to experimentation and trial-and-error, operating as they do on literal dream logic, meaning you'll have to start over many times. Towards the end I was practically reaching for a walkthrough so I could get through them quickly and painlessly and back to the visual novel half of the game. That said, some of those "dead ends" at least led to some amusing non-sequiturs and dumb jokes. I certainly wanted to like AI: The Somnium Files more than I did, in part because the asking price was so high and that created a sort of heightened Veblenian expectation of quality, but I can't say I was too dissatisfied either. Certainly garnered more than my fair share of laughs from its goofiness. (4 Stars.)

  • 31/01. The fourth 2017 game of the year. To the Moon's sequel, which treads the same thematic waters of exploring a lifetime of regrets and what one might change about it while lying on one's deathbed. Finding Paradise goes less towards the heartbreak of To the Moon and veers towards an interesting direction involving an anomalous presence in the clinical memory sifting process, but if the narrative-heavy and interaction-light combo of the original didn't grab you (nor its RPG Maker visuals) I don't think this will either. I appreciate this series for as occasionally maudlin as it can be however, and hope to see several more instalments. (4 Stars.)

  • 09/02. The two-hundred-and-fifth Indie Game of the Week. Earthlock's surprisingly ambitious and does well by both that sense of scope - the equivalent of a PS1-era RPG - and enough interesting (mostly borrowed) mechanics to keep the combat and exploration fresh. (4 Stars.)

  • 10/02. The fifth 2017 game of the year. This is one of those games that took a long hard look at Skyward Sword and The Wind Waker, considered what it was about those games that made them special, and then tried to recreate it on an Indie developer's budget and time. In similar cases, devs might go for mechanics or aesthetic, but AER went for the vibe: having a mostly empty but beautiful cel-shaded world to explore at your own pace, either making a beeline for the dungeons or just soaking in the atmosphere. (4 Stars.)

  • 11/02. The two-hundred-and-sixth Indie Game of the Week. A solid enough aquatic explormer though one like AER above that feels mostly empty and letting the atmosphere of its sub-aquatic world do a lot of the heavy lifting. The boss fights are when the gameplay rolls up its sleeves and gets serious, with each one presenting a challenging duel with a massive aquatic foe. (4 Stars.)

  • 17/02. It can be difficult to convey just how good the Ys games are because so much of their appeal is contingent on how they feel and how the player feels while playing it. It's like if you turned an action-RPG into an arcade game or a rollercoaster ride; it's not just the stimulation from the rock soundtrack or its highly responsive controls, but the sense of sheer dizzying speed that each one is capable of delivering. Fighting a boss while barely dodging waves after waves of attacks, or entering a new dungeon and just powering through enemy groups in seconds as you effortlessly switch to characters with the right attack type. Falcom's been working on this formula for a very long time and have gotten disturbingly good at it.

    That said, Celceta's maybe a slightly weaker entry, sitting as it does between Ys VII and Ys VIII as a series "half-step". It's based on an older Ys game (or two, if we're being technical) so there's also a few "old-school" indulgences it can wreck your day with, the most atrocious of which is a status effect that causes you to hemorrhage money at a shocking rate. Graphically, it's... well, it's formerly a Vita game, but the PS4 version does a fine enough job of up-rezzing everything without it looking like garbage. Falcom games aren't normally lookers to begin with though, with the artistic efforts directed towards the excellent soundtracks instead - this game is full of the bangers you should expect from an Ys game, with Black Wings and Underground Ruins being two highlights.

    I would happily recommend any Ys game to any person, just because there's nothing much else able to do what this series can. When it's firing on all cylinders it's about as close to action RPG nirvana as you can get. (5 Stars.)

  • 19/02. The two-hundred-and-seventh Indie Game of the Week. We've long since passed the point where you could be surprised by what this game is - it's Frog Fractions 2, hidden inside a fairy glade building simulator - but there's enough diversions and puzzles to keep anyone entertained even if they're not the biggest followers of ARGs. (4 Stars.)

  • 20/02. The sixth 2017 game of the year. It's another HOPA and not one that is distinctive in any particular way, besides being the hundredth game to riff on Norse mythology that year (see below for another case). I dunno, these games are all pleasantly anodyne and probably worth the few hours they ask if you happen to grab a bundle of them. More to come on this list, for sure. (3 Stars.)

  • 23/02. The seventh 2017 game of the year. Hellblade's a prestige game, one that takes a lot of dramatic risks with its premise and presentation, and as a result the more traditional gameplay side of the equation takes more of a back seat to what's happening with the story. You can take or leave the environmental rune puzzles or the competent if mashy combat, but it's worth seeing through for the performances and art direction. (4 Stars.)

  • 25/02. The eighth 2017 game of the year. NSS hooks you in early with an incredibly well-designed streamlined version of an MGS stealth action game, pulling back the levels of interaction to a single analog stick for movement and still making the particulars of the genre work. It then kinda messes up that good first impression by proceeding to do nothing new with the next ten hours of gameplay needed to see its ending. Half a great idea, as I said in the review. (3 Stars.)

  • 26/02. The two-hundred-and-eighth Indie Game of the Week. Despite an annoying late-game progress breaking bug, The Inner World carries itself well as a throwback graphic adventure game with plenty of modern quality-of-life features - a "highlight all hotspots" button, which is always something I want, and regular wipings of the slate so you're never stuck with too many hotspots and items at one time. (3 Stars.)

  • 27/02. The ninth 2017 game of the year. A dramatic story about a teenager's travails, told through the lens of a mobile phone they dropped in the street. What little interaction there is consists of reading emails and text messages, as well as figuring out passwords, in order to get to the bottom of what happened. I'm tempted to call this sub-genre "phone 'em ups" but... well, it feels like I should probably be talked out of it. (4 Stars.)

  • 07/03. The two-hundred-and-ninth Indie Game of the Week. The final part of this trilogy of single-character isometric RPGs is a little more compact and rushed, but still hits most of the same highs. Not the most satisfying conclusion though. (4 Stars.)

  • 14/03. The two-hundred-and-tenth Indie Game of the Week. I can't fault the game's ambition or sense of atmosphere or ingenuity of its timeline puzzles, but it continued to rub me the wrong way ever since it wiped my save that one time. Wish it surfaced more about its intricate timetable of events and how much time you had left. (3 Stars.)

  • 15/03. The tenth 2017 game of the year. A brazen Mega Man clone with magical anime girls that's about as entertaining as its inspiration, suggesting the developer knew perfectly well what it was about those old NES Mega Man games that made them timeless. Fun name to say out loud too. (4 Stars.)

  • 19/03. The two-hundred-and-eleventh Indie Game of the Week. Yarny's cute and all and the environments look fantastic, but this game's physics puzzles and unpredictability really made it unpleasant to play in parts especially if you were going for a no-deaths run. Hopefully the sequel improves on some of that finickiness. (3 Stars.)

  • 21/03. The eleventh 2017 game of the year. A Zelda-like with a simple aesthetic, straightforward puzzles, and a cute elephant protagonist, juxtaposed with some mature themes and deep philosophical musings from its ancillary characters. A perplexing mix but one worth seeking out. (4 Stars.)

  • 26/03. The two-hundred-and-twelfth Indie Game of the Week. Presents itself as one thing (an open detective adventure game like a Gabriel Knight or a Kathy Rain) before pivoting to a linear action-adventure game with the occasional deductive puzzle. Story kinda meanders and ends on a mysterious note, which you don't really want from a whodunnit. Ambitious stuff, though, with lots of gameplay variation and some amusing writing. (4 Stars.)

  • 28/03. The twelfth 2017 game of the year. A chill, exploration and atmosphere-heavy explormer with free-floating movement, puzzles built around physics, and combat based vaguely on shoot 'em up mechanics. What points it loses from not having an effective fast travel system it makes up for with an upgrade that tells you, indirectly, where all the collectibles are hiding. (4 Stars.)

  • 31/03. The thirteenth 2017 game of the year. Another HOPA, one based on fairytales and also Robin Hood for some reason. One notable aspect, though not unique, is being able to mix potions to solve puzzles. (3 Stars.)

  • 31/03. It took all month, but I finally completed Dragon Quest XI and earned the Platinum, and it's easily the longest JRPG I've played in years if not ever. The sheer amount of content frequently threatened to overwhelm my continued investment, but something about its simple turn-based combat remained compelling throughout the whole game. I don't think battles were particularly fast, especially for normal mobs, but the character development and equipment customization were sufficient carrots on sticks and none of the party characters ever felt superfluous or under-powered. The game also oozes charm from every pore, with some of the most ridiculous/terrible wordplay I've ever seen from its talented localizers, and I liked that every town/region had their own nationalities/accents without being broad caricatures. But yeah, this game was immense; almost felt like Square Enix was giving us something huge to chew on because they weren't sure if they're going to make another big budget RPG any time soon. (5 Stars.)