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Game of the Year...2021

Well, it's been quite a year for THIS website, hasn't it?

New directions for both site and members, but many of us are still here, plugging away on random forum posts and making GOTY lists. Honestly, it feels like the site is drifting away from me a bit, but that's not a bad thing. Change is critical, especially on the internet, and so many people's refusal to embrace it is one of the reasons why so many try and so many fail, but the few who do adapt succeed. I wish the site and the people working on it all the best in 2022, and moreover hope to be here for the things I love, and to smile and nod at the things I don't get.

Just one honorable mention this year:

Boyfriend Dungeon. I love all of Kitfox's output, but I just haven't had time to play this one. A dungeon crawler RPG where you date your weapons, though? I can't see it going wrong.

Okay, I lied there's a second one: Terminator Resistance just came out for PS5 and is releasing a campaign DLC. I played this game this year, and absolutely adored it. I think its lack of polish is getting far, far too much shit from an industry that gleefully overlooks lack of polish in other, far LARGER, games, at times for seemingly baffling reasons, and that it's the best story told in this universe apart from the two actually good movies. To say NOTHING of how it's easily the best Terminator game, though that field is depressingly uncrowded by quality.

List items

  • I actually really DO like card and deckbuilding games, but I am not terribly great at them. I tend to like to build up and clash rather than try and find the quickest route to the most damage or game-breaking combos that can't be countered, but the funny thing is: Inscryption wants you to do the latter. Even has cards and characters that encourage you to break the game and find shortcuts and combinations that cannot be beaten, because...Inscryption isn't REALLY a card game, is it?

    When you'll realize that can be right off the bat as one of the cards immediately begins to tell you that it's trapped, that you shouldn't listen to the strange, hulking guardian of the cabin, that he's not playing by his own rules, so why should you? And that might start to make you think, well just what IS Inscryption?

    Inscryption is a game that takes a certain glee in messing with the player's expectations and even question the nature of videogames, of data storage, of internet fame, and even urban legends. Playing more like an actually effective creepypasta (think more "Candle Cove" or SCP Foundation, and less "Sonic.exe" or "Jeff the Killer"...much, much, MUCH less those last two) but to say much else would be to tip the hand a little too much.

    That's not to say the game's all sizzle and no steak, there's quite a bit of a very basic card and deckbuilding game, but by keeping things simple, it leaves the door wide open for those like me who play a little more seat-of-their pants and less agonizing over every single move and trying to have the perfect run every time. After all, all you have to lose is your identity.

  • Last year, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity absolutely blew me away with its mix of musou action and heartfelt, high-end storytelling, so much so that I declared this game would have quite the hill to climb. Instead of climbing that hill, Persona 5 Strikers just went around it in the best possible way.

    Barely recognizable as coming from the same engine as recent Dynasty or Samurai Warriors games, games that seem more like they want to sell you a proper game piecemeal and putting in as little effort as possible to innovate, Persona 5 Strikers takes the wonderful characters and settings of Persona 5 and plunges them into an action-focused, intensely kinetic battle system that feels like it gels with the tone of the game seamlessly.

    This isn't simply a side story with the window dressing of a great RPG, this is a completely different game that continues the story into the next year, and checks back in with some of our favorite characters. Makoto and Haru are in college, Ann and Yusuke are looking into higher education, Ryuji's pondering his future in track and Futaba's just happy to be making friends in her second year, and this really does feel like catching up with old friends after coming home for the summer.

    It's not perfect, the choices are completely inconsequential and I'm a little disappointed that you can't rekindle the romances, or even very close friendships, that the previous game left off, but it's understandable that they couldn't include EVERYTHING in this already full package.

    Like Persona 4 Arena before it: this game is a fantastic example of the breadth that these games can encompass.

  • And speaking of unexpected surprises, after the phenomenally disappointing "Avengers" game that felt like a solid single-player experience crushed beneath the weight of studio meddling and greed, shoving microtransactions and other "LIIIIIVE SEEEEEEERVICES" (to quote the great James Stephanie Sterling) into a frame that couldn't support them, Guardians of the Galaxy bursts onto the scene with a character-driven narrative that feels more Mass Effect than Marvel Heroes, and that's not a bad thing.

    Picking up after the Guardians' ranks have welcomed Rocket and Groot in, and in the wake of a massive galactic war against Thanos and his chitauri legions, the people are suffering from PTSD on a galactic scale, and this game neither wallows in misery nor ever lets the player forget that this wasn't just some adventure where everyone came together against a common foe, it was a war in which a LOT of people died and so many more lost someone. The perfect breeding ground for a cult promising hope and asking so little besides Faith...

    Taking some deep cuts from the comics, but having the characters feel a bit more like their fleshed-out movie counterparts, Guardians of the Galaxy does what I wish more comics-based videogames did and carves its own path while not completely forsaking what came before.

    All to an absolutely kickin' '80s soundtrack that celebrates the New Sincerity with inclusions like "Don't Worry, Be Happy," "Hangin' Tough," and "Never Gonna Give You Up" as the absolute bangers they always were rather than the emblems of disaffected jadedness and hatred of all things corny that they became.

  • Sometimes a game just needs a hook, and the notion that the world has ended already and now must be rebuilt from the memories of those who survived certainly is an interesting one. A game that plays itself but never becomes so boring that you can just let it be is another one, and the story as told from some of the monster's perspectives, the idea of the world being made up of things we love and hate and dislike and enjoy is a fascinating one too, but honestly? The loop is what got me on this. The want to go just a little bit further and learn just a little bit more about what's going on in this world was enticing enough to make this one of my most unexpectedly played games of the last year.

  • This could've been higher, but putting it above #5, despite it being nothing more than an excellent re-release of three excellent games felt disingenuous to games that tried and succeeded at doing something truly wonderful this year.

    That being said: this game gave me a lot of closure that even I wasn't really aware I was needing with a series who's ending I always liked, but always rang a little hollow to me. There's little more to say other than: if you haven't played Mass Effect, there's no better way to experience it. And if you have? It's truly amazing experiencing it with a singular continuity at your own pace, and with ALL the story DLC present and accounted for.

    They may have killed Mass Effect, but at least we got an absolutely wonderful memorial service for it.

  • I don't know what all the fuss is about, I KNOW how hawt tall women are, I've been married to one for almost a decade now.

    A follow-up to a great game that goes in its own direction and still manages to achieve greatness. The previous game tried its hand at a couple of different genres: the crazed family of hillbillies, the mold creatures, the bugs...oh GOD, the bugs, and SAW-style trap rooms, but there were so many more to plumb, and that seems to have been the idea here.

    Vampires, werewolves, mutant sea creatures, and a mephitic doll face blank-slate vanilla Ethan Winters, who finally gets to show a little bit of character and carve a path for himself this time around. The problems are minor and rampant in the genre as a whole, and yeah, the plot could've been solved if certain dumbasses just stopped and explained what was going on, but that's not what happens in a horror movie/game.

    Balancing corniness and camp with harrowing nightmares and legitimate family drama, all before tying a bow on the Winters family's story and leaving things wide open for a myriad of directions, it is nice to have consecutive excellent Resident Evil releases that aren't remakes.

  • As I get lower in the list, I find I have less to say because inclusions of games becomes self-evident, so for this I'll just say: I didn't know how much I needed a throwback JRPG that still felt modern in how it respected the player's time (fast-travel, fast-shopping, fast-grinding) but apparently it was exactly what I needed to carry me through the middle of the year slump.

    Fun, inventive, and evident of a series that has grown comfortable in its own skin without becoming complacent or lazy,

  • Just pure meditative joy. Sometimes gets a little frustrating with everything having a "place" and a lack of labels meaning you'll sometimes be scratching your head on what an item actually IS, but the music, the sound effects, and the little insights into a life being lived makes this one absolutely joyous to play through. Or just sit and idle with.

    THRILLED that they devs didn't feel the need to insert a "twist" or a massive downer at some point because that's what's expected from games like this, and just allowed the player to actually be curious and investigating who this person is and what they prioritize in their lives.

  • And now for something...completely different.

    A deckbuilder John Wick/James Bond hybrid that gets the styyyyyyyyle and impact of both those things, but sadly lacks a great deal of the personality or plot that made them truly classic. A few flaws with imprecise language also bums me out (if you're going to sell a game on precision play, you need to meet the player on that), the game is still endlessly replayable for how quickly it jumps off and how quickly it can be gotten through in a single run.

  • The roguelike that came the closest to dethroning Hades, if only for a week or two, Curse of the Dead Gods is a more vicious, directed experience than a great many other time loop games, or games that integrate player failure/character death into the narrative fabric of the game, but what it lacks in story and character, it makes up for in sheer VOLUME of play-styles.

    Daggers, whips, swords, axes, throwing weapons, shields, cursed items and trinkets all fundamentally change the way the game is played, and perhaps if more of them had spoken to me, I'd have ranked the game higher.

    As it is: it's a very well done one of these.