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GOTY 2021

I got extreme deja vu reading the intro to my 2020 list. It feels like I could just copy-paste what I wrote there–not getting to some of the bigger games, not enjoying many of the ones I did play, having a handful of games just ready to fill the list if I needed them but not really wanting them there–and call it a day, since I feel pretty similarly this year. I wish I’d had the time and energy to try more of the games I have on my wishlist and backlog, but I again did at least manage to come up with a list of games I feel strongly about for 2021, enough so that I can consider them my top 10 games of the year.

List items

  • Life is Strange: True Colors is the best Life is Strange game since the original. At its core, it has the same things that made me fall in love with the series: a stellar voice cast that delivers solid, emotional performances; a great artstyle that made me fall in love with the characters and the town the game is set in; and a really fantastic soundtrack that defines certain moments–although it is painfully underused compared to the original, one of my only complaints. It also has some great new things of its own, like some really creative moments that utilize the main character’s empathetic power in smart ways or build on the Dungeons and Dragons elements featured in the developer’s previous foray into this universe, Before the Storm.

    But what really sealed the top spot for True Colors was the DLC, Wavelengths. It’s a pretty basic DLC that follows a single character in a single location, but it provides some context for a returning character from Before the Storm and how she transitions into True Colors. You run a radio show and do everything from pick the music to take calls and read out ads on the air. There isn’t a lot to it, but I love the focus on the music, which is something I think really defines Life is Strange for me personally, and there are a few fantastic emotional moments that give great context to the character, both from her past events in the previous games and where she goes in True Colors. I absolutely adored it and wish it was available for purchase on its own, and not just part of the Deluxe Version of the game. It makes the experience so much more complete for me, and bolsters the weakest part of the base game, the soundtrack. As a whole, True Colors and its DLC is without a doubt my favorite gaming experience of the year.

  • Endwalker is the latest expansion for Final Fantasy XIV, the fourth since the game rereleased in 2013. It had the monumental task of concluding the ongoing storyline that had been there since the beginning, even tying back to the original release of XIV in some ways. Somehow, despite all of the interweaving threads and building tension over EIGHT YEARS of story, the developers managed to tie it all together with a conclusion that earns everything it started AND ties up everything neatly with a bow. Oh, and it’s an amazing story full of great setpieces, huge surprises, and heart-wrenching emotional moments. Endwalker’s story is an astounding feat and continues my assertion that Final Fantasy XIV is one of the all-time great video game narratives simply because of how attached I feel to my character from all these years ago. Oh, and the rest of the expansion is pretty good too. ^_^

  • Chicory: A Colorful Tale’s gameplay didn’t ever really do it for me. The puzzles are fine and build nicely over the course of the game, but I never wanted to explore its world or color things in and draw like it often prompts you to do. I often just moved from one story point to the next, because the true strength of Chicory is the compelling story and its characters. It’s remarkably adept and delicate about very difficult topics, such as intense mental struggles due to things like depression or imposter syndrome. It’s a game that can be very sad at times, but it earns that sadness so well, unlike nearly any other game I can think of.

  • Everhood is a supremely bizarre game in nearly every way, and I kinda love that about it. At its core, it’s a combination of an adventure game with a very Earthbound/Undertale weirdness and a strange mix between a rhythm game and a shoot-em-up, but it’s kinda not either of those either. It really has to be seen to understand it, but it’s very unique and actually hard to put down. The story is oddly compelling for its weirdness and there’s a lot of hidden stuff and achievements if you want. My favorite part of the game, however, is its incredible soundtrack. It’s just as eclectic and varied as the rest of the game, and I absolutely adore it.

  • My feelings on Resident Evil 7 were extremely mixed. It wasn’t a bad game, per se, but I was so put off by its wildly different tone, lack of classic characters, and poor enemy variety that it was pretty forgettable for me. Village was something I was cautiously optimistic about, and I’m happy to say how surprised I am in how it turned out. It fixes most of my problems with the previous game, while also introducing some minor new ones, and feels a lot tighter and more fun to play. It was a game I had a hard time putting down, playing again and again until I had unlocked everything about 30 hours later. That longevity and desire to keep playing is what got it so high on my list.

  • I had actually bounced off of the previous Ratchet & Clank game pretty hard, so I didn’t expect much from Rift Apart. But, since I had a Playstation 5, I figured it was worth giving it a shot. And boy, am I glad I did! Rift Apart is an absolutely gorgeous game complete with a compelling narrative that introduces a fantastic pair of new characters, super fun gameplay that makes smart use of the PS5 controller’s unique features, tons to explore and do, and an astounding audio-video package to boot. It doesn’t really do anything all that unexpected for the franchise, but I enjoyed myself too much to care.

  • I, like most people probably did, was expecting Persona 5 Strikers to be a typical Dynasty Warriors clone with a Persona 5 wrapper, such as how Hyrule Warriors worked. What we got, however, was much more like a fusion (pun intended) of the two. It’s impressive how well the developers implemented Persona elements like fusing new Personas, the Press Turn system, and All-Out Attacks. Add in a continuing narrative that fits nicely into the end of (original, not Royal) Persona 5 and you have a game that feels more like a Persona game than a Dynasty Warriors game most of the time. Other than some problems I have with this combat, I think this is a must play for any fans of Persona 5.

  • The original Nier was a game I loved in some ways, but I also found it incredibly frustrating and flawed when I originally played it. Nier Replicant doesn’t really make it any less flawed, but I’ve come to appreciate its rough edges as being part of its charm…for the most part, anyways. It’s nice having the game on modern platforms and easily accessible again. Some of the refinements are nice, and it’s great getting the old DLC included too. The soundtrack is still one of my absolute favorites of all time, but I do find a few of the updated versions to be inferior. The best part of this game, however, is the new ending, which is absolutely FANTASTIC, if far, far too short.

  • Kena: Bridge of Spirits feels like a love letter to old-school platformers and I love that about it. The combat is a bit flat and repetitive, not to mention oddly difficult in spots, but I still had a great deal of fun exploring the colorful and beautifully animated world. It’s also an amazingly adorable game–the Rot is so damn cute! What really earned this game a spot on this list, however, is that it’s the first game I played to completion with my new girlfriend, cementing it as an important bonding memory forever.

  • Halo: Infinite certainly has its flaws, but it’s also the first Halo game I’ve been excited about and interested in since Halo: Reach. The gameplay feels better than it ever has, mostly due to the amazingly fun grappling hook. I’m not the biggest fan of the bland, confusing narrative and open-world design, since it has the feel of an early 00s open-world game with its sparse and dull side activities, but the tight combat manages to make up for it. And I’m actually playing multiplayer again, something I also don’t do anymore!