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NeoGAF GOTY 2021 |OT| Voting thread (Up: Closed)

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I feel like more people posted their personal list in the sticky thread asking people to check and make sure the games they liked are included in the voting process.

Anybody like to post their personal top 3?
 

Topher

Gold Member
I feel like more people posted their personal list in the sticky thread asking people to check and make sure the games they liked are included in the voting process.

Anybody like to post their personal top 3?

My top three has been changing a lot of late. I think it will finally come down to......

1) Mass Effect Legendary Edition
2) Ratchet and Clank A Rift Apart
3) Guardians of the Galaxy

I got 5 platinum trophies out of those three so I must have liked them. But I don't think that is how I voted. lol
 
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fatmarco

Member
Even though I probably played more re-releases/ ports than new titles this year I can't find a way that justifies having them be competing against new titles, so I ignored them.

It also feels a bit weird filling out the back end of your list with games you didn't like knowing there are better games you simply didn't end up playing.
 

Northeastmonk

Gold Member
I see Resident Evil VII on the list. Is that because the deluxe edition of Resident Evil Village came with Resident Evil VII Gold Edition? That was not a remaster, only backwards compatibility. It’s a 2017 game with DLC that ended in December of 2017. The Gold edition came out in December of 2017 as well.
 

cormack12

Gold Member
I see Resident Evil VII on the list. Is that because the deluxe edition of Resident Evil Village came with Resident Evil VII Gold Edition? That was not a remaster, only backwards compatibility. It’s a 2017 game with DLC that ended in December of 2017. The Gold edition came out in December of 2017 as well.

 

Biff

Member
Are we also posting lists in this thread after voting? I'm going to anyway so I have a record somewhere.

1. The Riftbreaker
2. Returnal
3. Halo Infinite
4. It Takes Two
5. Twelve Minutes
6. Maquette

I legit *loved* each of my Top 3 games this year which is better than I can say for 2020 where it was a total slog to pick even a top 3.

The Riftbreaker - such a damn good game. I grew up on Starcraft and Warcraft so to see such clever innovation in the RTS world was really a treat. Also was the first game I played through front-to-back via cloud gaming (XCloud) which convinced me cloud is the future. This game didn't get much press but for any RTS fans out there DO NOT SLEEP ON THIS GAME. It's easiest compared to They Are Billions but it's really so much more. Just try it - 30mins is enough to know if you are hooked or not. Oh - and I almost forgot to mention: I played the entire game with a controller, which is a truly impressive achievement for an RTS dev team where so many peer games have struggled (or just straight up skip the controller option).

Returnal - very happy for Housemarque as Super Stardust HD is a Top 5 GOAT game for me. This could have been my GOTY but Housemarque made some idiotic design decisions and, most frustratingly, they double-downed on them despite clear direction from the community on how to fix issues. Honestly embarrassing it took them so long to add a save system when the game suffered from unacceptably frequent crashing. "Bu-bu-bu it's our creative vision! If the game crashes it's just part of the experience of a hardcore game like this!" -- That was EA levels of copium. They can fuck off for that and I hope they learned their lesson. I know my GOTY vote matters zero to anyone but this was the difference between the #1 and #2 slot for me.

Halo Infinite - consider me a BF2042 refugee. I was so hyped for BF because of the trailers. I almost pre-ordered but decided against it because of EA. In the end a good decision and I skipped that clusterfuck. But my FPS itch didn't go away, and 343 couldn't have (finally) nailed a Halo game at a better time. The fact that I am fully playing an FPS - both campaign and multiplayer - via XCloud is also a total mindfuck to me. The campaign was fun throughout its entirety with fair difficulty (died way more than I expected on Normal!) and the open world style worked much better than I imagined.
 
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kalecsan

Banned
Inscryption

Not just GOTY but the only great game that I played in 2021. It just lacks a little bit of refinement in the narrative and less exposition, to be at top tier level.
 

Bartski

Gold Member
My top 3 full games released in 2021

Easy pick if I'm to exclude some of the best things that happened this year in gaming for being network tests, early access versions and DLC re-editions...

1. Returnal - 10/10, a masterpiece.
2. The Ascent - criminally underrated, atm my favorite twin-stick shooter ever.
3. Kena: Bridge of Spirits - surprise of the year.

Runner up: CHORVS - I voted here before actually playing it last weekend and absolutely loved it. Most exciting space combat game in years


I have not played R&C, It Takes Two nor Deathloop yet and I don't have a Switch, Metroid looks good imo so eventually I'll get there
 

ethomaz

Banned
Too many GOTY questions... I cloud only fill 4 of them because there is no more GOTY content this year.

My to 3:

1. Returnal
2. Deathloop
3. Resident Evil Village

Runner up: Metroid Dread (actually it can even replace Village in the TOP3).

Well these where the 4 games I thought it was GOTY level this year.
 
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Mine are;

1. Outriders. It's just a game, no micros or anything, and it is the game I enjoyed the most this year.
2. Halo Infinite
3. Insurgency Sandstorm.



Boo, not on the list. 4. Hellish Quart. A simplistic but fun sword fighting game. Probably the closet thing to a modern day Bushido Blade.
 
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SpokkX

Member
I played every single big release on every format this year except Deathloop (have a ps5 but waiting for gamepass) and my top 5 is pretty easy. Overall these 5 games made for an amazing year (especially Halo - loved the campaign but that multiplayer is sublime and will only get better with time)

1. Halo Infinite
2. Forza Horizon 5
3. Metroid Dread
4. Psychonauts
5. Hitman 3
 
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T0minator

Member
That’s so good it should have come with a big fat warning label stating GREATNESS AWAITS

Thanks! As I was playing Returnal I had so many "ohh that would look cool in a video" moments. So I actually decided to make my own video. I made a couple of others on my channel too. Check em out! 👊🏼

Returnal was such a great experience and Housemarque deserves all the recognition they're getting lately
 

AV

We ain't outta here in ten minutes, we won't need no rocket to fly through space
1. WoW: The Burning Crusade Classic
2. Inscryption
3. Metroid Dread
4. Resident Evil: Village
5. The Forgotten City
6. Deathloop
7. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart
8. Subnautica: Below Zero
9. Halo Infinite
10. Valheim

I think that's about right. Debated whether or not to even put #1 on my list but I can't lie to myself.
 
Voted
mini GIF
 

Nestunt

Member
  1. Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut;
  2. Mass Effect Legendary Edition;
  3. Far Cry 6;
  4. Nioh 2 Remastered;
  5. Death’s Door;
  6. Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury;
  7. Kena: Bridge of Spirits;
  8. Lost Judgment;
  9. Resident Evil Village;
  10. The Forgotten City.
 

Fredrik

Gold Member
Voted!

A bit bummed that I couldn’t choose Apple TV’s Fantasian as the best RPG since it was the best RPG I played in 2021 besides Cyberpunk which was a 2020 game.
Couldn’t choose Moss for Oculus Quest 2 either.

Only listed four games:
1. Metroid Dread
2. Forza Horizon 5
3. Ratchet & Clank
4. The Ascent

And Ratchet had the best graphics and narrative. Couldn’t choose Metroid Dread for best action adventure so had to go with The Ascent there, felt wrong but it was my number 2 for that game type so. Then The Ascent for shooter.
 
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What an appalling year. I am not looking forward to things getting even worse than this. I know I said last year that as the world keeps getting crazier we should hope for the Tracer Tong ending, but my gut tells me we're getting the Bob Page ending. Looming apocalypses aside, it was an okay year for games depending on your tastes. A lot of the major stuff this year really wasn't up my alley, which means I got to catch up on some awesome stuff in my backlog, like Xenoblade 2. I loved it! Well, I loved Xenoblade 1 and Xenoblade X as well, so I guess it's not that surprising, but these games are so weirdly different from each other despite their similarities that I didn't know what to expect. 3 months of my life to disappear, that's what! I also played a lot of the original Diablo II since I got caught up in the hype for the remaster, but didn't want to give Blizzard money to fund the redecorating of the Cosby Suite.

As for the cool stuff that came out in 2021, let's take a look.


1. Metroid Dread - [Switch] I love me a good Metroidvania. But I went into Metroid Dread with a sense of dread. Okay, no dread, but like, zero hype. Samus Returns on 3DS, while solid, did not set my world on fire... and when I saw early trailers for Dread, showing the 2 games sharing the same parry mechanic, I rather got the feeling that playing Dread would be a lot like playing Samus Returns. Well I wasn't really looking for a merely "solid" Metroid game. I like my Metroid games to ooze style and substance, like the Prime games on the Gamecube. The seemingly competent 3D visuals displayed from a 2D angle shown in the trailers were fine but not thrilling, and as for style, well...It appeared to me that Samus's powersuit had been replaced by a much lamer suit featuring mismatched colours and a white robo-diaper. Furthermore, stealth stuff is just not my bag, baby. I don't really hate it but neither am I thrilled about the idea of being hunted by some kind of unbeatable terminator while I'm trying to explore nooks and crannies for hidden missile upgrades.


So yeah. I had my reasons for starting Metroid Dread with minimal enthusiasm. And nothing in the first hour really changed my attitude, but it only took another hour beyond that for my expectations to be completely blown up. I might have inserted the cartridge wanting to explore a mysterious alien planet while getting immersed in atmospheric music, like Metroid Prime, but what Dread offers instead is fast, frantic action. This is a kick-ass Metroidvania with smooth, responsive controls, a ton of hectic, dramatic boss fights, and power-ups and secrets galore. Ya gotta love it.


The visuals gradually grow on you from seeming completely competent at the start, as you explore caves and corridors, to looking pretty dang awesome later when you find yourself in underwater bases bustling with marine life in the background, or when the camera pulls way way back to frame an awesome shot of you dashing towards an enormous, ancient fortress. Even Samus's new suit looks cool once it gets a few upgrades happening. But the real standout in the visual department is the exciting cutscenes that contextualize the appearance of each monstrous boss. Samus ducks and dashes and dives as gigantic screaming beasties swing their claws or flail their tentacles, and then control is handed back to you for the intense confrontation - this is some beautiful cinematography.


These cutscenes are also used to tell a pretty significant story. It's one that may have some crazy ramifications depending if developers want to treat it as canon or not, but just know that stuff does happen to Samus in this game beyond her powering up and kicking ass. And the tale is conveyed efficiently without dragging things out and being overly chatty like a lesser Metroid game...or one of my top 10 lists. It's a different kind of story, one where Ridley is a no-show and there is narry a space pirate in sight. And you know what that means! No Space Pirate theme music! YAYYYYYYY! As relieved as I am to not have to hear the grating Space Pirate music, that's the most noteworthy thing I can say about the soundtrack. It isn't bad or anything, it just doesn't stand out the way the incredible soundtracks of legendary past Metroid games have.


But what about these robot stalkers that bring stealth elements into the game? It totally works. Stealth sections are confined to specific zones that the robot has a patrol route in, and even those zones are free to be explored at your own pace later once your deadly cat and mouse game is over. If your hunter does corner you, you get a chance to parry its attack and escape through its legs. I smugly thought as a Dark Souls guy I could do this whenever, but parrying one robot fairly consistently doesn't seem to translate into parrying the others. They may all have different attack timings or something. That's not a big deal though because as Samus explores and discovers new powers and upgrades she will be better equipped to out-sneak, or failing that outrun, her pursuers. In the end, the stealth sections add to the Metroidvania platforming without taking away from it.


Where does all that leave us? To summarize... Metroid Dread is an ice missile blastin', wave beam weavin', air teleport dashin', shinespark soarin', secret sniffin', screw attack slicin', lock-on multitargetin', big boss parryin' videogamey ass videogame that I'd recommend highly to anyone who likes 2D platformers in the Metroidvania style or anyone who just likes 2D action games in general.

A short, sweet, classic.


2. Lost Judgement - [PS4] I'd gone quite a few years between Yakuza games before I played the first Judgement title. I love the series dearly, but that love somehow coexists alongside a strong sense of fatigue. You end up doing a lot of the same things over and over in these games, and while I wouldn't describe many of the minigames or the combat as bad exactly, they aren't endlessly compelling either. The same can't be said for the Yakuza storylines and protagonists, however. We're living in a topsy turvy world where the people regarded as heroes are the whiniest weiners, and people who shoulder life's burdens and keep moving forward aren't the ones we look up to, but the ones we want to tear down to our level. Seeing heroes just actually be heroic, instead of getting deconstructed so they can be "updated" to conform to an alarmingly glossy, shallow, corporate moral order feels so increasingly rare that it's something precious. Disney "updated" Star Wars from an evergreen multi-billion dollar money printer to an irrelevant franchise with their sanctimonious superiority, and Amazon is spending a cool half-bill to completely erase the value of the mammoth Lord of the Rings franchise by updating it to get rid of the ideas of that pesky Tolkien guy. You can tell from his stories about dwarves and elves overcoming their hatred and becoming friends that he's an oppressive patriarch. Besides, he's an old white guy, and that makes him super racist. That's not true of our elite class though. They may be mostly old white guys too, but they're rich assholes in suits who control everything, so you know whatever divisive, group identity based message they have to force into every classic story in place of that story's original, unique message must be totally wholesome and not at all evil. Shinra and Umbrella should be taking notes.


This is a role model

While the West seems poised to completely lose its way, with every icon of heroism from every story being subverted and deconstructed in this race to the empty, soulless, corporate bottom, Japan seems largely untouched. There are some cracks showing, but right now you can play a random game or watch a random anime and not expect any preposterous preaching or pandering. And in the Yakuza series, you're likely to encounter righteous heroes who set a shining example for all with their stoicism, bravery, and compassion. If you're a kid who doesn't have a father figure, there's still a chance you'll turn out okay if you play enough games starring a great role model like violent gangster Kazuma Kiryu. I'm being serious by the way.

Yakuza tends to develop figures from the criminal underworld into holy, pure-hearted apostles on the regular, and it's especially refreshing in this day and age to see such uplifting heroism. But Takayuki Yagami, the protagonist of 2019's Judgement, is a bit different. He was never a gangster in the first place, but a lawyer turned detective who grew up surrounded by a Yakuza family. As a result the tone of that first game was not a highly personal mobster drama, but something more akin to a mystery thriller combined with an 80's action movie, and it was a pleasure to play through that story, balancing intriguing revelations with high intensity action set pieces. Why yes, Alzheimer's is an escalating problem that the world must take seriously. I am very interested in what lengths we can go to in order to combat this disease. Or, we could throw each other through the windows of a high rise building while doing kung fu moves. Also good.


While it generally has a similar feel and provides mostly more of the same, I Honestly didn't enjoy Lost Judgement quite as much as the first Judgement, which nails that vibe of mystery thriller meets old fashioned action movie perfectly. Nor did I enjoy it as much as Yakuza: Like a Dragon, where Ichiban Kasuga's heroic journey reveals a heart so trusting and pure that the collector's edition should have come with jumbo sized pocket tissues. I think either of those games would have beat Metroid Dread for my GotY if I had played them this year. While this is still a game that can hang alongside those titles, it just doesn't come together quite as well for me. I'd say part of this is because of the school angle. A ton of this game's content, especially its sidequests, takes place in a school environment, and it just wasn't that appealing to me for a Yakuza game's setting. They still did a great job with it for what they had, weaving a tale of school bullying, suicide and revenge into the central mystery of the main quest, but of all the situations to put a kung fu detective in for an action packed adventure, high school dance club advisor is one that really clashes with the crime story vibe.


You may find these methods harsh, but you can't argue with Japanese test scores

Yes, you really join the dancing club and do a rhythm game where you teach kids how to dance. Of course, that kind of silly nonsense is in every Yakuza game, it's all part of the fun, but it's about balance and quantity. There's not enough cool kung fu detective action movie and too much tutoring kids at school for my taste, and it hurt my experience somewhat compared to other recent Yakuza titles. Aside from the classic minigames that always show up, and the drone and VR minigames from Yagami's first game, all the minigames in Lost Judgement are related to school clubs and activities. If you play Yakuza, you can probably guess how it will go down: you're gonna love a few of the minigames, some others are gonna be okay, and a couple will feel like a chore. I personally took a shine to the robotics club and skateboard missions while finding the biker gang and photography club missions tedious.


As for the battles, Yagami can still alternate between Tiger style for 1-on-1 scuffles and Crane style for crowd control, but his repertoire is now enhanced by a 3rd discipline: Snake style. It's pretty great. Snake style allows you to parry attacks from all sides, sending your assailant stumbling past you, disoriented. It also expands your range of throw options. Perhaps best of all, it has multiple moves designed to disarm any attackers wielding weapons, which is both useful and extremely cool looking in execution. A lot has been done to refresh the battle system, it's fun, and the combat is one of the few things that I can clearly point to as being superior to the first game. But fundamentally, it's still that same Yakuza combat underneath that we've seen so many times. It's Good, but not addictive enough that the endless barrage of random battles doesn't become tedious before the end of the game.

What is addictive enough to carry the game is the fusion of intriguing murder mystery and martial arts action movie. As revelation after revelation gradually paint a picture that makes an impossible murder finally make perfect sense, every rain soaked alley and dusk coloured classroom out there are teeming with thugs out to erase any snoops who get too close to the truth. Perfectly creepy villains exchange unpleasantries building up to inevitable, epic confrontations as the story climaxes, and you just know the cool friends you made in the last game are gonna show up to have your back right when you need them the most.


And so the never ending Yakuza cycle continues. A refined but repetitive battle system and a showbag of hit and miss minigames combine with lovely but well trod recreations of prominent Japanese locales and an earnestly crafted, passionately told story of heroism to provide an experience that is truly special. But... that's every Yakuza, innit. Even though I don't think it's quite as good as other recent Yakuza titles, Lost Judgement is still a great game and I'm looking forward to whatever the developers have for us next.


3. Super Mario 3D world + Bowser's Fury - [Switch] Well don't I just love me some Mario. The pudgy plumber's platforming proficiency has seen him dominate and define the genre since Donkey Kong in '81, until now, 40 years of electric ecstasy later. 2013's then WiiU exclusive Super Mario 3D World is another classic, but it's an 8 year old title at this point, so unless you're a man of culture like me, and have to own the shiny new version just so you have an excuse to find every secret star and touch the top of every flagpole with all 5 characters in order to collect every single sticker all over again, your main reason not to miss this masterpiece is that you missed it the first time, since nobody owned a WiiU and everybody owns a Switch. Of course, even a lazy glance at the game's box art, with its fat-ass plus symbol suffixed to the title, reveals I'm omitting something, but we'll solve the equation (MARIO 3D WORLD) + (BOWSER'S FURY) = ??? later on.


Let me start by saying I hope you're not allergic to cats. The new power-up in SM3DW is the cat bell, transforming you into a fierce feline who can climb walls, do diagonal pouncing attacks, and my favourite, a sliding claw dash that mows through blocks and enemies. The other big selling point is that this game is made to be enjoyed alone or on a packed couch of 4, sort of like the zany "co-operative" multiplayer of the New Super Mario Bros. games, where 4 players are all on the screen at once, stepping on each other while trying to leap over lava, and accidentally throwing each other down bottomless pits...and maybe doing it on purpose. Sometimes.


Fortunately, there's a lot more room to move compared to those games now that the platforms are in 3D. Little Kevin doesn't have to bounce repeatedly on Sarah's head over and over until she scratches him in real life and then suddenly they're both trying to choke each other and they yank the controller so hard they pull the console over and you're yelling "will you kids friggin' stop it already!? This is supposed to be fun!" Uh... what I mean is, hypothetically - a scenario like that, uh, imaginary one would be less likely to happen. Partly because the space you're sharing has depth now and partly because a lot of character abilities and power-ups help mitigate such problems. You can also play online or locally across multiple Switches now, too. The game does incentivize friendly fire to an extent though, awarding a crown to the player with the most points, so you're never completely free of the joy of finding out which kid has the most realistic IRL cat scratch attack.


My pro-tip for maximum multiplayer enjoyment is that when you play with others, just play to make it to the flagpole together. Don't pursue secrets or stars, and focus your skill on helping other players by giving them your power-ups or carrying them sometimes if need be. Then revisit each course in single player later that night and satisfy your urge to perfect the level by collecting its green stars and stamps, amassing 1-ups as you do so, so you'll have a stack of lives ready to expend on multiplayer the next day. It's also good to advise players having trouble judging depth to look at the shadow underneath their character to help them understand their position when jumping across platforms.


Yes, multiplayer can get crazy, but don't Doki Doki Panic, because the roster is awesome. In a loving callback to Super Mario Bros. 2, Mario, Luigi, Toad and Peach all handle a little bit differently, like how Toad is a little speedster, or Peach has a floaty jump. It's been 8 years, so I'll just spoil it for you: Rosalina is in this game too, and she's great. That's just one of many joyful surprises. Things really start to get hype at world 3-1, where you're introduced to helicopter blocks, snow balls, Kuribo's ice skate, and the glorious Tanooki suit all at the same time. You'll be throwing boomerangs, eating multiplication cherries, shooting cannonballs and zipping around in Futurama tubes. You'll see Captain Toad's dioramas and Savannah deserts and Japanese castles and even a secret Zelda level as you play through multiple post game worlds. SM3DW is full of great content.


And SM3DW is so pretty, sometimes I wonder if the game somehow invented new colours. Peach's perfect pink is present in her cat suit and her boomerang bro costume, but she opts for a red and white number with her hair tied back in a sporty ponytail when she's using the fire flower to incinerate goombas. When Luigi puts on his boomerang bro costume, his shiny shell is such a glossy green that it gives me flashbacks of the Game & Watch Greenhouse game, with its unforgettable green clamshell design. Rosalina's deep turquoise is carried over from her dress to her boomerang costume, but when she dons a catsuit she's a slinky black cat, aloof and cool. So many gorgeous graphical touches shine through in this game, it really is a work of art.


Pictured: Nintendo execs with their cashcow. Uh, cashcat.

As for Bowser's Fury, it's a bit of a weird thing to judge. If the cat-o-meter is at 11/10 for SM3DW, then Bowser's Fury clocks in at about 9001 Neco Conecos. There's cat trees, cat mountains, cat koopas, cat kameks, actual cats...it's bonkers. Felines aside, it's a kind of awesome fully 3D platformer, set on a huge lake filled with islands that hold lots of cool challenges. But all the while that you're scoping out those challenges, Bowser's shell spins and grows in the background somewhere as he gradually masses up to a huge size and hulks out, coming at you in full Gojira mode, crushing islands beneath his feet, raining fire and breathing brimstone.


At this point, you can dismiss him back to his shell by quickly collecting 1 of the 100 collectable "cat shines" in the game before he immolates you, or avoiding his furious onslaught for a certain amount of time will also make him retract to his shell. But the best way of dealing with him is to grab a gigabell and transform into the looming titan that is Lion Mario, complete with shaggy Super Saiyan mane. This way, you can challenge Bowser on equal footing, matching each other blow for blow as millions of innocent lives get caught in the crossfire, probably. But even when you overthrow Bowzilla this way, it's still just a temporary dismissal, and he begins charging up to interrupt your exploration all over again.

Nintendo developers would describe this as "a pleasant feeling of tension." They aren't wrong exactly. It's fun, and the urgency Bowser brings to the game is part of that, even if it can be annoying at times as well. In fact, the whole time I was playing I was thinking "don't enjoy it too much, because it will end soon." But at 100 shines, BF actually adds up to almost a whole game, albeit a small one. And the Bowser transforming into Godzilla gimmick doesn't wear out its welcome.

But it would.


This a cool concept executed well, and, I feel, to its maximum potential. You cannot make a full triple A Mario game in the league of something like Super Mario Odyssey with this premise. It just doesn't have the legs. Nintendo probably saw they were onto something good with this concept, so they just kept building on it until they hit wall and realised it couldn't go any further. Not wanting their work to go to waste, they tossed some cats in and packaged it with SM3DW as a bonus. That was a good decision. If you see yourself playing SM3DW again for any reason, then Bowser's Fury makes it an even better buy. Maybe you know someone who never played SM3DW, and you'd like to play through it with them in co-op mode, or something. As a free add-on, Bowser's Fury is great. Cool concept, Fully 3D, 100 shines, more than enough cats. But by itself, it's almost a game.
 
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4. Final Fantasy VII Remake INTERmission - [PS5] Last year I made my case for why I love FFVIIR so much and why I'm tentatively hopeful about the project going forward despite dumb modern square crap like the spectres and the ending threatening to henceforth go off the rails with various meta "improvements" to the legendary Jrpg classic that is Final Fantasy VII. If we're lucky, in the next installment we'll be meeting up with more classic characters (who aren't supposed to be dead) and exploring more environments from the original game. Along the way there'll be some spooky hints that "there's something a little off about this universe" peppered throughout the adventure, but the game won't completely abandon the sequence of events laid out in the good old days of the PS1 until another "gotcha" moment like meeting up with Zak or something at the end.

And if we're unlucky?

Well, my chocobros: If you brace yourself for a speech where Jenova tells us "moms are tough" then nothing can disappoint you.


Square may be off its rocker these days, spewing out cringey nonsense in most of their new FF games with teenage fanfic level writing, but since most of the characters and events in FFVIIR are taken from one of their good old games, with oh-so-clever pat-themselves-on-the-back pretentious posturing current year Squeenix bullshit sort of happening off to the side, I found FFVIIR highly enjoyable compared to their other recent output like FFXIII, FFXV, and, let's face it: FFXVI. I have the benefit of not being sentimentally attached to the original by such a strong personal connection that anything failing to match my expectations feels like a punch in the gut. At the same time, I also have the benefit of being generally knowledgeable about FFVII since it's such a huge part of gaming history, so I can casually play the Yuffie DLC and be like "Hey look! It's that ninja girl! Cool!"


Man that's a lotta graphics. If this is how many graphics a 4K has, 8k must be like, the mostest graphics, like, ever!

And that's exactly what I did. By some Christmas miracle I actually managed to find a PS5 in late December, so while my copy of Demon's Souls was on its way in the mail, I took advantage of the free PS4 to PS5 upgrade and immersed myself in Midgar once again. The game was already a looker on PS4, and the higher resolution, new environmental effects, and honey smooth frame rate only serve to amplify this. Hopefully that jittering issue or whatever it is on the PC port gets fixed soon because it's an abomination that such a pretty game isn't running properly for everybody. The music is a real standout too, with a range of genres being played with for some delightful sounding tracks, but I adore the visual art of the game most of all. Characters, cutscenes and environments look truly beautiful, and I love the game's gorgeous graphical effects during battle - they provide so much eye candy I feel I've contracted optic diabetes.

So how is the Yuffie DLC, anyways? It's a pleasant little sidestory, or gaiden, as us cultured weebs like to call it. You spend the first half getting to know Yuffie and her moves as she makes her way through a run down industrial zone to the sector 7 slums, with the Materia and weapon leveling systems from FFVIIR present and fully functioning. The second half is an infiltration deep into Shinra's underground research facility in search of the "ultimate materia." Good luck heisting that hyperstone, teenage ninja.


We're living in a Materia world, and she is a Materia girl ♫

Yuffie herself is great. The truth is I started playing the series with Final Fantasy VIII and have no idea what Yuffie's character is actually supposed to be like. All I remember about her is her beautiful song from the Final Fantasy Piano Collections. But her personality in this is much better than the bland or bizarre personalities that modern day, completely original Square-Enix characters have, that's for sure. She's a precocious ninja kid who resents people looking at her like a child, yet she can't seem to resist bursting into a spontaneous game of hopscotch and humming to herself while skipping across terrain. At one point she and your other party member, a staff wielding ninja called Sonon, are planning an ambush and he suggests she should serve as a distraction. She refuses, insisting that she is the leading lady and no one's gonna take the glory from her. Then she appears on high and does a Mahou Shoujo transformation, casting off her koala/moogle hoodie and striking a pose as she reveals her classic FFVII costume, calling out the enemy as she does so. And then she... falls and hurts herself, all of which ironically creates a perfect distraction. These kinds of Yuffiemisms (pronounced euphemism) are fun and I enjoyed her as the star of this DLC adventure. She's cheeky. This kid kunoichi has got spunk, and I'm looking forward to seeing her team up and have banter with your other party members, like Eco-Fascist Mr.T and Alternate Reality Good Guy Scar from The Lion King.


This is a short and sweet DLC adventure made up of just 2 chapters, but they're chunky chapters, with big battles and a satisfying short story that has a dramatic conclusion. And it even checks back in with your regular party to see where they are during the "INTERmission." There's minigames and treasure hunts and a new summon to unlock, Ramuh. The combat system is mostly unchanged, just personalized to Yuffie, with great abilities like non-materia based elemental magic and a replacement jutsu where she leaves a moogle statue behind to absorb a big attack. Playing it I'm reminded all over again that I love Final Fantasy VII Remake and how perfect this DLC would be for someone to whet their appetite with when the next installment's about to come out.


That next installment is a worry though. For many, FFVIIR was trash as soon as it defiled their childhood by deviating from their treasured memories of playing FFVII in their youth. To me, it's been great, almost like playing a good, old Square game where I don't hate all the characters, but with amazing new technology from the modern era. All the while though, cracks having been showing around the edges as Squeenix can barely seem to resist the urge to indulge in "clever" meta twists that devalue the experience by making character's interactions, and especially their deaths, meaningless. What's it gonna be, Square? It was all a dream? It's all the warped memory of a dying man as his life flashes before his eyes? We're all in a simulation where the developers are forced to remake Final Fantasy VII over and over again for all eternity? You're really blowing my mind, deconstructing the most beloved thing you've ever built. I'm soooo impressed.


Oh, I know! Maybe Cloud died already and he has been a ghost the whole time? Or maybe Zak is actually Cloud's imaginary friend who never existed in the first place? Whatever they try to pull, it will be nowhere near as compelling a premise as "rag-tag slum dwelling eco-terrorists battle giant evil corporation for the fate of the planet." That's for sure. Knowing my luck I'll be playing FFVIIR Part 2 and then a portal will open up, getting me all excited, hoping to meet Cait Sith or Vincent Valentine. Then the camera will show a close up of GIANT YELLOW CLOWN SHOES as Sora appears to save the day. Why you gotta mess with everything Square? Honestly, I feel like grabbing them and shaking them and yelling "Just do sword fights on motorcycles, you stupid genius idiots!!!"


5. Bravely Default II - [Switch] After the trauma of Bravely Default's ridiculous Groundhog Day ending nonsense, I skipped Bravely Second: End Layer on the 3DS entirely. I did think about picking it up just for a little bit, when I saw fun classes like the "Nekomancer" who has cat related powers, but I thought better of it when I saw the English localization change the class name to "Catmancer." Just what is it with the "no fun allowed" approach there, stomping out that pun on "Necromancer" so brutishly? "Take that ya weebs! It's Catmancer now!" You wanna localize it, call the class "Felinomancer" or something, using etymology from ancient languages the same way "Necromancer" does...just changing it to Catmancer is lazy and stupid compared to anything except making you play through a game 8 times in order to see its true ending what the fuck Square.

Thing is though, until Bravely Default's preposterous padding in the overlong endgame, it was pretty awesome. Beautiful graphics presented a charming world filled with adventure, lovely music, and an abundance of classes with cool skills to master, mix, and match. Best of all, the Brave and Default options rejuvenated Final Fantasy style turned based combat by allowing you to bank your turns for later to use them all on an extra powerful move, or to bet your future turns now in the hopes your multi-turn onslaught will finish the enemy off quickly. If there's a game doing all that on the Switch right now, and it doesn't base its endgame on the second season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, what's not to love?


I actually think Bravely Default II is just flat out better than the original in every category. I enjoyed the story, which in general is another crystal/chosen one/destiny dealarooney, so don't get too excited - but the characters had good relationships as they grew to know each other and there are a few nice twists. There was also some heavy subject matter like ideological extremists that won't tolerate dissenting opinions, and mass graves...Not at all surprising that those things appeared close together in the story, is it? It's kinda weird to watch adorable chibi people wrestle with cultism, discrimination and genocide, but the story and its characters worked for me quite well.


Graphically I was a bit let down at first. The chibi characters and picture book towns initially seem underwhelming, especially since the pop-up book 3D look of the 3DS is no longer a thing. But after playing it more, I love it quite a bit. Also I think the first hand-drawn town is just a bit basic compared to later ones. The further into the game you go, the better and better they get at this style, leading to some gorgeous towns, spell effects and other lovely artistic touches, like running through a dark cave with a cloud of bats blurring up the foreground as they flash past the player's vision. Yes there's a desert town, yes there's an ice town...but! It's nice ice. Care has been taken and everything is presentable and polished, leading to a really charming little HD fantasy world, and each town and dungeon's music does a good job immersing you deeper inside that world.


I enjoyed the combat and character building a great deal. At this point I might as well tell you about a sort of meta-game I'm always playing in my head whenever I play a Jrpg, in addition to the game proper. It's the "How Can I Beat this Game with Minimal Grinding?" game, and amazing as it is to play an adventure where you build your little dudes and they keep learning new powers as you travel around the world, figuring out something OP enough that you don't have to stay in any part of that world longer than you want to provides an unrivaled, blissful, and honestly, pretty smug feeling of self-satisfaction like nothing else can.

As it turns out, the answer to that puzzle of how to beat the game without getting too grindy is: Monk and Beastmaster. Perhaps this is just what it's like on hard difficulty, but nothing seemed very effective early on. Casting an elemental spell like Blizzard with my Black Mage, for example, seemed really unimpressive. But after trying things and experimenting, I discovered the Monk's awesome ability called "Pressure Point," and it was a total game changer. It's a special attack that costs brave points instead of mana, and which pierces armour for guaranteed, consistent damage. Suddenly my whole party is based around squeezing more value out of this ass-kicking attack. I've got 2 Monks at once while my other characters are trying out new classes, and they're using abilities that support the Monk, like how the Vanguard class can give "the Gift of Courage" and transfer their brave points to a Monk so they can use Pressure Point more. All the while I'm mowing through monsters and bosses without having to stick around grinding to level up.


The Monk is great early on, but eventually he's overtaken by the glory of the Beastmaster, and they became the core unit in my party. I mentioned before how if my Black Mage casts Blizzard in the early game, it's not impressive, but if my Beastmaster captures a monster who casts Blizzard, it's really damaging when that monster is unleashed on an enemy. So now I'm capturing all these monsters and unleashing hell on bosses with my Beastmaster, who is just awesome. He even learns an ability later where he gets a stat boost relative to how many monsters you've captured, ensuring total dominance even in the late game.


The Thief is a vital member of any team. He can enter shops and purchase items for the other party members to use

This isn't to say that other classes are trash. There are excellent classes later like the 2-handing Swordmaster class, and the Phantom, an assassin who can guarantee inflicting status ailments will work. But the backbone of an efficient offense in the early and mid-game, for me, was the Monk and Beastmaster. As for other early and mid-game classes, they can do a lot of cool things to enable these 2 superstars to mash some monsters. There's a tanky fortress class called Shieldmaster that can learn to duel wield shields, providing awesome cover for your party. And there's a class called Salve-maker who makes items awesome. They have an ability that can make 1 item effect all party members, meaning they can use a phoenix down to resurrect the entire party long before the white mage learns that ability in the end game. They can also mix together healing items to create way more powerful healing items on the spot during battle. You know, the kind of items that you normally never buy because they're too expensive, or if you find them you never use them because they're too precious? Salve-maker concocts them like it ain't no thang.


BeastMonk says "Hai."

Your characters are all dual-class. So once you've mastered a bunch of classes, half the fun is mixing and matching them to find effective combinations. BeastMonk is an obvious one, where I used the stat bonuses of the Beastmaster together with the power of Pressure Point's armour ignoring assault to do massive damage. But there are a whopping 24 classes in this game, each of which can learn 15 skills, so unless you know how to do multiplication, that's an infinite number of possibilities.

I had a great time with Bravely Default II, so I was a bummed out to hear it only just barely sold 1 million units flat. I'd love to play another Bravely game. Now, If you hate little chibi characters, or don't enjoy Jrpgs that use job systems, don't bother. But if you only avoided it because you thought it would be half-assed or phoned-in in some way, please give it a look. It's a grand, heroic adventure packed with content like optional bosses, classes, card games and sidequests. It even has an epic true ending - one that doesn't require you to play through the game 8 frickin' times. I promise!


6. Castlevania Advance Collection - [Switch] Aria of Sorrow is something really special. It's a classic Metroidvania, with stylish little pixels working overtime to show what a great gaming system the GBA was. Something was lost in handhelds forever once we moved to DS, a kind of singular focus on action and arcadey-ness that thrived for a while came to an end. Well, Aria is one of those "gamer's games" that made the GBA shine in its heyday. It also has a nice spooky atmosphere and awesome gothy character designs courtesy of Ayami Kojima's artistic brilliance. Gameplay-wise there are a jillion cool powers to play around with, since the game's hook is that upon killing every enemy, there's a chance you'll absorb their soul, and with it some useful new attack to add to your moveset. I immediately liked Soma's character design and moves back in the day too. Tragic that he was re-imagined to look like an understaffed vietnamese sweatshop anime puppy dog character for the DS sequel. I guess Ayami Kojima's artistic talents come at deservedly high price. Or maybe Konami were worried that their blood-soaked, gore-filled vampire series wasn't appealing to children.


In an age where everything is political, it's nice to do a witch hunt the old fashioned way

Anyone who loved Symphony of the Night but never had a Gameboy owes it to themselves to try this classic with its own great twist on the Metroidvania formula. Just know that the GBA's music output cannot compare to the incredible Castlevania tracks on home consoles and later handhelds.


Soma the Kidd in Miracle World

As for the B-sides, they're actually not completely forgettable, even if this is really "The Aria of Sorrow +3 collection." Circle of the Moon I'm afraid I couldn't click with, the movement just seemed too stiff and whatever is going on with cards in that game's combat system was too obtuse for my lazy brain. But Harmony of Dissonance is a perfectly decent game in the "Igavania" style. I don't know why I had completely dismissed it before now, I suspect the blue glow and after image on your character just annoyed me back in the day so I stopped playing. Vampire's Kiss is just a port of Rondo of Blood, which is a great pre-Metroidvania Castlevania style game. There are better versions of Rondo but it's still nice to have it in the collection.
 
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7. Persona 5 Strikers - [PS4] Musou solly, but Dynasty Warriors games just aren't that good. One of the first ever PS2 games I saw was a Dynasty Warriors game, and I went from having my jaw drop initially at how many dudes were fighting on the screen together, to complete disinterest as those mashy combos demonstrated the gameplay depth of an ant's kiddie pool.

Musou is a bubble gum game, sweet for a short moment but ultimately bland on account of that shallow combat. Unless you're really into Romance of the Three Kingdoms, I guess, then suddenly there's some reason to be invested. Well we all know where that's leading: starting with Hyrule Warriors on the WiiU, I've found myself actually playing entire games with Dynasty Warriors combat, on account of EPIC FAN SERVICE. Impa looks so cool with that huge sword! Gameboy fans, look at Malin sing and dance as cuckoos gather all around her! Now that we're in a phase of the Zelda cycle where it's okay to admit that we adore Wind Waker, see Medli do an attack that shows off her classic "dizzy" animation afterwards! Wow, the adventure mode looks just like a NES map! I really enjoyed all these deep cuts and loving homages, and next thing you know I find myself with a backlog of Musou games that I both dread playing and am excited to play, like some Fire Emblem thingy and a Dragon Quest whatchamacallit, amongst others.


I don't know when I'll get around to most of them, but I did get to play through Persona 5 Strikers this year, which makes for a rather peculiar situation. For one thing, the fan service bonus is compromised. While I love Persona 3 and Persona 4, I'd say I "like" Persona 5 rather than love it. Because Kamoshida is a scum, we must repel an ordeal for the sake of absolute victory. That's how the localization sounds in the back half of that incredibly long game: rushed and sloppy. Reading text like that, I find the strong emotional connection I had with the characters in previous Persona games just isn't there. How was I to know that back when P5 was first revealed along with the slogan "You are slave. Want emancipation?" that was actually what the copy said after the localization team had already worked on it?

But while I'm not that crazy about Persona 5, Atlus is bringing their A-game, as the budget and amount of content do not fall far short of a main entry in the franchise. Honestly, all their spin-off games have a lot of effort put into them, whether it's fighting games or handheld dungeon doodlers, but P5S is frankly, a bigger production than most spin-offs. I've heard people describe it as Persona 5 part 2 and while that's an exaggeration, it's not an enormous one. Gorgeous menus, beautiful cutscenes, chunky dungeons and side quests abound. They even went ahead and included major Japanese cities that had not been in their games previously, something I assumed would be held back on until Persona 6.


Anyone else notice that now that Sega owns Atlus, Persona games have just started copying the town designs from the Yakuza games? You're getting sloppy, Atlus!

It is hamstrung in the same way all those other Persona spin-offs are, though. Let's say you're playing the Persona cooking game. Chie Satonaka, the tomboyish carnivore, can't have a story arc where she becomes a vegan. Or she can, but only in a way where everything is wrapped up so that she's right back to how she started by the end of the story, like a sitcom with a canned laugh track. You can't be playing the text heavy story mode of the Persona kart racing game (come on, you know it will have lengthy exposition dumps between cups) and have Ryuji get in a car accident where he becomes a quadriplegic and appears that way in future Persona games. There's only so much that can happen in a spin-off side story that needs to leave the characters and world pretty much exactly how it found them, and meaningful story arcs that make a person grow or change are not a possibility.


It's true I did say I want a Bloodborne sequel "as soon as possible." But I never said Atlus should be the ones making it!

Unless it's a totally new character, that is. These Persona spin-offs tend to have a token guest party member, somebody who is usually at the center of the story, and they do get to have a personal arc. Persona 5 Strikers actually has 2 characters like this, and they end up being good characters, but the narrative doesn't shift focus on to them until about halfway through the game. Up to that point the story is just the P5 posse hanging out listening to long explanations of why the metaverse and dungeons and shadows are back so they can do video gamey stuff again. And of course, fan service. If you love Persona 5, that should be enough to carry you through to when the story improves at the halfway point, but if you merely like Persona 5, the way I do, it can be a slog. I remember one exposition dump in the first half of the story that was so long I think I was asked if I'd like to save my game twice while it was going, that was a low point. But hey, at least the game isn't in Engrish. All your base are belong to their rightful owners.

Once it eventually gets good, it's, well... good. Spectacular boss battles with awesome Persona music and hype cutscenes when the boss transforms for its next phase - you know how it is. It's true that after the plot picks up, it isn't that dissimilar to the main story of P5, revisiting its central themes, but it is ultimately satisfying, in part because of the execution and in part because those themes are compelling, featuring a finale where masses of people desire the safety of cages in exchange for promises of a life without suffering.


No, no, of course not! I was merely...ogling.

As was stated earlier, gameplay-wise, this is almost like a full Persona game, Dynasty Warriors combat aside. You're still fusing demons, you're still upgrading gear and doing sidequests, you're still fighting optional super bosses, you're still exploring beloved Japanese locations, the works. The biggest part of the Persona experience that isn't here is the incredibly addictive life sim, where you live out a calendar year while making decisions like choosing whether to study for an upcoming test or spend time building your relationships with other characters, with all such choices being brilliantly interwoven into the gameplay in such a way that they impact the game's rpg combat. I miss that combat. I enjoy the turn based battle system megaten games are known for, and I guess that's the second biggest Persona element missing from this title, after the life sim part.


But I might be being a bit harsh on the battle system. I have an undeniable contempt for Musou games and their mashy combo strings, and I think it clouds my appreciation of this game's combat, which has definitely had a lot added on top of the Dynasty Warriors formula. For one thing, you can pause the action at any time to fire your gun or summon a Persona, which is useful if you want to stop the hectic scramble for a moment and think through what you're doing strategy wise. Your Persona can exploit enemy weaknesses and you can string criticals and exploits together to keep activating Baton Pass, which switches between different party members so you can lay down some really intense damage tagging back and forth. Those characters offer more variety than just their element type, as well. Ryuji has an awesome charge up attack, for example, and Yusuke can parry, which I enjoyed doing. I also enjoyed a mechanic where you can dodge an enemy attack at the last moment and be rewarded with a bonus move. These elements taken from better 3D action games really enhance the experience and I caught myself unironically enjoying boss fights later in the game as I got good at using these techniques. I just wish it wasn't all layered over that Musou foundation of mashing out combo chains that make your character zip about as hordes of cannon fodder enemies fly all over the place.


If you've played Persona 5 and want more Persona 5, the game for you is Persona 5 Royal. But if you've already played that, Persona 5 Dancing in Starlight, Persona Q2, Persona 5 Paint along with Yusuke Kitagawa, Ann Takamaki's Fashion Design Challenge, and Tamagotchi: Morgana Edition, then the odds are pretty good you will like this game. Even if you you've got something against Dynasty Warriors, there's a chance it'll take your heart.


8. Streets of Rage 4: MR.X Nightmare DLC - [PS4] After their gorgeous Wonderboy 3 remake, Lizardcube miraculously made a totally worthy Streets of Rage sequel, resurrecting that beloved genre that is the old school 2D beat 'em up. You have to be of a certain age to get it, perhaps, but there really was nothing quite like strolling along bashing up every bad guy in sight. Throwing dudes over your shoulder, wailing on people with pipes and bats, pumping coins into the arcade machine as you slurp away at your squishie... it was the best. But somewhere along the way it felt like a genre that had been played out. The very simplicity that made scrolling beat 'em ups so fun and accessible also made them feel limited and shallow. And yet trying to add things like a leveling system or an inventory system slow down the action and mess with the purity of kneeing a mohawked punk's face over and over until it caves in.

well, Lizardcube found a way to make it work. Streets of Rage 4 can be enjoyed on 2 levels. You could have a couple of really fun days playing it casually with a buddy, just like you were playing the graphically enhanced remaster of a classic beat 'em up, or you could get hardcore into mastering the combat thanks to the game's excellent combo and ranking system. If you played SoR4 and found yourself doing the latter at all, don't sleep on this DLC. I went into it with pretty low expectations. There were no new stages added to the story mode, for 1 thing, and the 3 new characters are actually bosses that we'd already seen but who just weren't previously playable. So I just kind of checked it out without any hype. But it turns out it really is quite awesome. The 3 new characters are great and play well, they have their little differences about them that end up making them welcome additions to the line up. It's great to have big boy Max and his awesome throws back, since he's a legacy character, but Estelle can throw grenades in the air and Shiva has a large aerial moveset that allows for some insane combos.


Then there's Survival Mode. It's kind of like the X-Men's Danger Room - you're in a simulation where anything can happen, and the developers have packed it with crazy stuff. Weird traps, silly new weapons like lightsabers, fish and various new grenades, wind effects, lightning bolts, new special moves to unlock, power-up choices... and all of it as you face a constantly escalating challenge, finding yourself fighting 3 bosses at once while fire rains down on you, or taking on an army while electrified fences are threatening to zap you. It's the perfect mode for people who enjoyed the combo crazy high intensity side of Streets of Rage 4. It even has more callbacks to the classic games, adding extra retro bosses and retro stages, complete with the scanline look used in the secret levels of story mode. Really, the only thing missing that I wish they could have somehow brought back from the old games is the club stage from Streets of Rage 3. You know, that level with the trippy strobe lightning? I wish they'd done a stage like that and went overboard with lighting effects. But there's certainly a ton of great stuff here.

I've been eager to see what classic Sega property Lizardcube will breathe life into next, but now I'm flat out hoping it will be Golden Axe. They've done such a great job with Streets of Rage 4 that I feel like they might actually be able to pull off combining the bone crunching action of that classic beat 'em up with some kind of fantasy rpg depth that makes it feel old school and yet fresh at the same time.


9. Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster - [Switch] I'm always cruisin' for a fusin'. And SMTIII: Nocturne has been one of those Jrpgs that I kept meaning to get around to but never really did, so I jumped on the HD remaster when it came out. I usually play Jrpgs on hard, but after dying a few times very early I switched SMTIII over to regular difficulty and I'm glad I did - there were archaic design elements in this game that make the challenge of navigating its maps more frustrating than stimulating.

When I say it was hard in a way I didn't like, I'm mostly not talking about SMT battle mechanics. I'm talking about things like how maze-like the levels were. Lots of Jrpgs have mazey dungeons - I'd say I have a reasonably high tolerance for such level layouts, but this 2003 PS2 classic is so old school, kids are riding dinosaurs to class. I liked a few of the dungeons, like Ikebukuro, and there are Some cool ideas for some of the puzzles, like using reflections to find illusions. But for the most part the dungeons are long, tediously winding mazes that look similar enough for you to get disoriented between frequent random battles.


When I play him, he's more of a "Demi-Friend"

It sucked balls to endure a long-ass maze, see a save door in sight, and as I went for it a random battle occurred where I got back-attacked and insta-killed by Mudoon when I didn't have my dark resistance magatama equipped because I was about to level up, so I had switched to a different magatama that I needed equipped in order to learn a skill from it upon leveling. Well whatever. There were a lot of cheap deaths in this game, and as much as I want to complain about them, at least when I die all the time there is a trippy death cutscene where angels spiral upward from my body like Jacob's ladder.


Parts of the dungeons are good as Jrpg dungeons go, with interesting themes and puzzles. But Most of them are tedious and the worst are an appalling slog. Here's the worst dungeon of the lot. You're in a maze (of course) and when you choose a branching path in that maze you either get warped back to the start of the maze (fuck!) or to a new maze (fuck!) where the branching paths of this maze can either warp you to some other maze or, of course, the very beginning, fuck. I actually like SMT combat, and crafting demons and planning which skills they inherit like Pokemanz and all that. But when you're disoriented by the sameyness of the warp-you-to-start maze you're in and you're turning around trying to figure out where you are and you get sucked into another long battle with high defense enemies that reflect physical, it's more like Shin Megami Testing-Muh-Patience.


I guess it's a been a while since I played such an old Jrpg, but I found the slog of SMTIII's dungeons so tedious, that even though I preordered SMTV, I haven't played it at all! I'm sure, being made 20 years later, that its mazes are less grueling, but the pain is still too raw for me right now.


Thanks for the heads up, disembodied light orb boss guy. How will I ever escape this freedom? Please put me in a nice, safe, maze

As rough as the dungeons were, SMTIII is still a good game, even 20 years later. But its biggest strength is its off-putting yet alluringly evil world. I was intrigued enough by the game's brutal apocalyptic setting, the competing objectives of the various faction leaders, and the eerily shot cutscenes showing their manic ambitions or horrid transformations to see it all through to the end. Nocturne is creepy in a really mature, atmospheric way, delivering a high concept story that explores timeless philosophical questions, and its SMT style turn based combat is cool. But mazes suck. Unless you're...


10. Pac-Man 99 - [Switch] One of 2020's greatest joys was Mario 35, a game that fused the beloved classic Super Mario Bros with the Battle Royale genre to create a thrilling competitive multiplayer experience where 5 Bowsers could be breathing fire down your neck, or 20 Lakitus could be raining Spinys on you as you frantically dashed towards the flagpole. I fondly remember playing it for hours on end while listening to podcasts. I enjoyed it so much I even voted it Game of the Year last year. So, of course, Nintendo nuked it from orbit and it doesn't exist anymore. You can't play it. Like, at all. Ever again. Uh...thanks Nintendo. Nintendo giveth and Nintendo taketh away, blessed be the name of Miyamoto.

Well anyway, Pac-Man 99 scratches a similar itch, as 99 players zoom through its classic maze chomping on dots and popping pills. They also eat nutritious fruit, and, well, ghosts. You eat ghosts in Pac-man. Man, Retro gaming is a trip... It was the 70's dude. It's nowhere near as awesome as Mario 35, or maybe I'm just saying that because I won Mario 35 all the time and I never won Pac-Man 99 even once, but whatever. It's a fun little bit of hectic multiplayer, best enjoyed in small bursts, and at free the price is right. Plus there's no guarantee how long the game will be around, so check it out while you can.


Well that's 2021. Good riddance. Actually, Nintendo completely deleting my pick for 2020 GotY is soooo 2021 when you think about it. But that's the past now. Let's take a break from the nihilistic doomsaying and hope for good things. Like Elden Rings and chicken wings.

My 2020 Neogaf GotY Voting Thread Post
 
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7. Persona 5 Strikers - [PS4] Musou solly, but Dynasty Warriors games just aren't that good. One of the first ever PS2 games I saw was a Dynasty Warriors game, and I went from having my jaw drop initially at how many dudes were fighting on the screen together, to complete disinterest as those mashy combos demonstrated the gameplay depth of an ant's kiddie pool.

Musou is a bubble gum game, sweet for a short moment but ultimately bland on account of that shallow combat. Unless you're really into Romance of the Three Kingdoms, I guess, then suddenly there's some reason to be invested. Well we all know where that's leading: starting with Hyrule Warriors on the WiiU, I've found myself actually playing entire games with Dynasty Warriors combat, on account of EPIC FAN SERVICE. Impa looks so cool with that huge sword! Gameboy fans, look at Malin sing and dance as cuckoos gather all around her! Now that we're in a phase of the Zelda cycle where it's okay to admit that we adore Wind Waker, see Medli do an attack that shows off her classic "dizzy" animation afterwards! Wow, the adventure mode looks just like a NES map! I really enjoyed all these deep cuts and loving homages, and next thing you know I find myself with a backlog of Musou games that I both dread playing and am excited to play, like some Fire Emblem thingy and a Dragon Quest whatchamacallit, amongst others.


I don't know when I'll get around to most of them, but I did get to play through Persona 5 Strikers this year, which makes for a rather peculiar situation. For one thing, the fan service bonus is compromised. While I love Persona 3 and Persona 4, I'd say I "like" Persona 5 rather than love it. Because Kamoshida is a scum, we must repel an ordeal for the sake of absolute victory. That's how the localization sounds in the back half of that incredibly long game: rushed and sloppy. Reading text like that, I find the strong emotional connection I had with the characters in previous Persona games just isn't there. How was I to know that back when P5 was first revealed along with the slogan "You are slave. Want emancipation?" that was actually what the copy said after the localization team had already worked on it?

But while I'm not that crazy about Persona 5, Atlus is bringing their A-game, as the budget and amount of content do not fall far short of a main entry in the franchise. Honestly, all their spin-off games have a lot of effort put into them, whether it's fighting games or handheld dungeon doodlers, but P5S is frankly, a bigger production than most spin-offs. I've heard people describe it as Persona 5 part 2 and while that's an exaggeration, it's not an enormous one. Gorgeous menus, beautiful cutscenes, chunky dungeons and side quests abound. They even went ahead and included major Japanese cities that had not been in their games previously, something I assumed would be held back on until Persona 6.


Anyone else notice that now that Sega owns Atlus, Persona games have just started copying the town designs from the Yakuza games? You're getting sloppy, Atlus!

It is hamstrung in the same way all those other Persona spin-offs are, though. Let's say you're playing the Persona cooking game. Chie Satonaka, the tomboyish carnivore, can't have a story arc where she becomes a vegan. Or she can, but only in a way where everything is wrapped up so that she's right back to how she started by the end of the story, like a sitcom with a canned laugh track. You can't be playing the text heavy story mode of the Persona kart racing game (come on, you know it will have lengthy exposition dumps between cups) and have Ryuji get in a car accident where he becomes a quadriplegic and appears that way in future Persona games. There's only so much that can happen in a spin-off side story that needs to leave the characters and world pretty much exactly how it found them, and meaningful story arcs that make a person grow or change are not a possibility.


It's true I did say I want a Bloodborne sequel "as soon as possible." But I never said Atlus should be the ones making it!

Unless it's a totally new character, that is. These Persona spin-offs tend to have a token guest party member, somebody who is usually at the center of the story, and they do get to have a personal arc. Persona 5 Strikers actually has 2 characters like this, and they end up being good characters, but the narrative doesn't shift focus on to them until about halfway through the game. Up to that point the story is just the P5 posse hanging out listening to long explanations of why the metaverse and dungeons and shadows are back so they can do video gamey stuff again. And of course, fan service. If you love Persona 5, that should be enough to carry you through to when the story improves at the halfway point, but if you merely like Persona 5, the way I do, it can be a slog. I remember one exposition dump in the first half of the story that was so long I think I was asked if I'd like to save my game twice while it was going, that was a low point. But hey, at least the game isn't in Engrish. All your base are belong to their rightful owners.

Once it eventually gets good, it's, well... good. Spectacular boss battles with awesome Persona music and hype cutscenes when the boss transforms for its next phase - you know how it is. It's true that after the plot picks up, it isn't that dissimilar to the main story of P5, revisiting its central themes, but it is ultimately satisfying, in part because of the execution and in part because those themes are compelling, featuring a finale where masses of people desire the safety of cages in exchange for promises of a life without suffering.


No, no, of course not! I was merely...ogling.

As was stated earlier, gameplay-wise, this is almost like a full Persona game, Dynasty Warriors combat aside. You're still fusing demons, you're still upgrading gear and doing sidequests, you're still fighting optional super bosses, you're still exploring beloved Japanese locations, the works. The biggest part of the Persona experience that isn't here is the incredibly addictive life sim, where you live out a calendar year while making decisions like choosing whether to study for an upcoming test or spend time building your relationships with other characters, with all such choices being brilliantly interwoven into the gameplay in such a way that they impact the game's rpg combat. I miss that combat. I enjoy the turn based battle system megaten games are known for, and I guess that's the second biggest Persona element missing from this title, after the life sim part.


But I might be being a bit harsh on the battle system. I have an undeniable contempt for Musou games and their mashy combo strings, and I think it clouds my appreciation of this game's combat, which has definitely had a lot added on top of the Dynasty Warriors formula. For one thing, you can pause the action at any time to fire your gun or summon a Persona, which is useful if you want to stop the hectic scramble for a moment and think through what you're doing strategy wise. Your Persona can exploit enemy weaknesses and you can string criticals and exploits together to keep activating Baton Pass, which switches between different party members so you can lay down some really intense damage tagging back and forth. Those characters offer more variety than just their element type, as well. Ryuji has an awesome charge up attack, for example, and Yusuke can parry, which I enjoyed doing. I also enjoyed a mechanic where you can dodge an enemy attack at the last moment and be rewarded with a bonus move. These elements taken from better 3D action games really enhance the experience and I caught myself unironically enjoying boss fights later in the game as I got good at using these techniques. I just wish it wasn't all layered over that Musou foundation of mashing out combo chains that make your character zip about as hordes of cannon fodder enemies fly all over the place.


If you've played Persona 5 and want more Persona 5, the game for you is Persona 5 Royal. But if you've already played that, Persona 5 Dancing in Starlight, Persona Q2, Persona 5 Paint along with Yusuke Kitagawa, Ann Takamaki's Fashion Design Challenge, and Tamagotchi: Morgana Edition, then the odds are pretty good you will like this game. Even if you you've got something against Dynasty Warriors, there's a chance it'll take your heart.


8. Streets of Rage 4: MR.X Nightmare DLC - [PS4] After their gorgeous Wonderboy 3 remake, Lizardcube miraculously made a totally worthy Streets of Rage sequel, resurrecting that beloved genre that is the old school 2D beat 'em up. You have to be of a certain age to get it, perhaps, but there really was nothing quite like strolling along bashing up every bad guy in sight. Throwing dudes over your shoulder, wailing on people with pipes and bats, pumping coins into the arcade machine as you slurp away at your squishie... it was the best. But somewhere along the way it felt like a genre that had been played out. The very simplicity that made scrolling beat 'em ups so fun and accessible also made them feel limited and shallow. And yet trying to add things like a leveling system or an inventory system slow down the action and mess with the purity of kneeing a mohawked punk's face over and over until it caves in.

well, Lizardcube found a way to make it work. Streets of Rage 4 can be enjoyed on 2 levels. You could have a couple of really fun days playing it casually with a buddy, just like you were playing the graphically enhanced remaster of a classic beat 'em up, or you could get hardcore into mastering the combat thanks to the game's excellent combo and ranking system. If you played SoR4 and found yourself doing the latter at all, don't sleep on this DLC. I went into it with pretty low expectations. There were no new stages added to the story mode, for 1 thing, and the 3 new characters are actually bosses that we'd already seen but who just weren't previously playable. So I just kind of checked it out without any hype. But it turns out it really is quite awesome. The 3 new characters are great and play well, they have their little differences about them that end up making them welcome additions to the line up. It's great to have big boy Max and his awesome throws back, since he's a legacy character, but Estelle can throw grenades in the air and Shiva has a large aerial moveset that allows for some insane combos.


Then there's Survival Mode. It's kind of like the X-Men's Danger Room - you're in a simulation where anything can happen, and the developers have packed it with crazy stuff. Weird traps, silly new weapons like lightsabers, fish and various new grenades, wind effects, lightning bolts, new special moves to unlock, power-up choices... and all of it as you face a constantly escalating challenge, finding yourself fighting 3 bosses at once while fire rains down on you, or taking on an army while electrified fences are threatening to zap you. It's the perfect mode for people who enjoyed the combo crazy high intensity side of Streets of Rage 4. It even has more callbacks to the classic games, adding extra retro bosses and retro stages, complete with the scanline look used in the secret levels of story mode. Really, the only thing missing that I wish they could have somehow brought back from the old games is the club stage from Streets of Rage 3. You know, that level with the trippy strobe lightning? I wish they'd done a stage like that and went overboard with lighting effects. But there's certainly a ton of great stuff here.

I've been eager to see what classic Sega property Lizardcube will breathe life into next, but now I'm flat out hoping it will be Golden Axe. They've done such a great job with Streets of Rage 4 that I feel like they might actually be able to pull off combining the bone crunching action of that classic beat 'em up with some kind of fantasy rpg depth that makes it feel old school and yet fresh at the same time.


9. Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster - [Switch] I'm always cruisin' for a fusin'. And SMTIII: Nocturne has been one of those Jrpgs that I kept meaning to get around to but never really did, so I jumped on the HD remaster when it came out. I usually play Jrpgs on hard, but after dying a few times very early I switched SMTIII over to regular difficulty and I'm glad I did - there were archaic design elements in this game that make the challenge of navigating its maps more frustrating than stimulating.

When I say it was hard in a way I didn't like, I'm mostly not talking about SMT battle mechanics. I'm talking about things like how maze-like the levels were. Lots of Jrpgs have mazey dungeons - I'd say I have a reasonably high tolerance for such level layouts, but this 2003 PS2 classic is so old school, kids are riding dinosaurs to class. I liked a few of the dungeons, like Ikebukuro, and there are Some cool ideas for some of the puzzles, like using reflections to find illusions. But for the most part the dungeons are long, tediously winding mazes that look similar enough for you to get disoriented between frequent random battles.


When I play him, he's more of a "Demi-Friend"

It sucked balls to endure a long-ass maze, see a save door in sight, and as I went for it a random battle occurred where I got back-attacked and insta-killed by Mudoon when I didn't have my dark resistance magatama equipped because I was about to level up, so I had switched to a different magatama that I needed equipped in order to learn a skill from it upon leveling. Well whatever. There were a lot of cheap deaths in this game, and as much as I want to complain about them, at least when I die all the time there is a trippy death cutscene where angels spiral upward from my body like Jacob's ladder.


Parts of the dungeons are good as Jrpg dungeons go, with interesting themes and puzzles. But Most of them are tedious and the worst are an appalling slog. Here's the worst dungeon of the lot. You're in a maze (of course) and when you choose a branching path in that maze you either get warped back to the start of the maze (fuck!) or to a new maze (fuck!) where the branching paths of this maze can either warp you to some other maze or, of course, the very beginning, fuck. I actually like SMT combat, and crafting demons and planning which skills they inherit like Pokemanz and all that. But when you're disoriented by the sameyness of the warp-you-to-start maze you're in and you're turning around trying to figure out where you are and you get sucked into another long battle with high defense enemies that reflect physical, it's more like Shin Megami Testing-Muh-Patience.


I guess it's a been a while since I played such an old Jrpg, but I found the slog of SMTIII's dungeons so tedious, that even though I preordered SMTV, I haven't played it at all! I'm sure, being made 20 years later, that its mazes are less grueling, but the pain is still too raw for me right now.


Thanks for the heads up, disembodied light orb boss guy. How will I ever escape this freedom? Please put me in a nice, safe, maze

As rough as the dungeons were, SMTIII is still a good game, even 20 years later. But its biggest strength is its off-putting yet alluringly evil world. I was intrigued enough by the game's brutal apocalyptic setting, the competing objectives of the various faction leaders, and the eerily shot cutscenes showing their manic ambitions or horrid transformations to see it all through to the end. Nocturne is creepy in a really mature, atmospheric way, delivering a high concept story that explores timeless philosophical questions, and its SMT style turn based combat is cool. But mazes suck. Unless you're...


10. Pac-Man 99 - [Switch] One of 2020's greatest joys was Mario 35, a game that fused the beloved classic Super Mario Bros with the Battle Royale genre to create a thrilling competitive multiplayer experience where 5 Bowsers could be breathing fire down your neck, or 20 Lakitus could be raining Spinys on you as you frantically dashed towards the flagpole. I fondly remember playing it for hours on end while listening to podcasts. I enjoyed it so much I even voted it Game of the Year last year. So, of course, Nintendo nuked it from orbit and it doesn't exist anymore. You can't play it. Like, at all. Ever again. Uh...thanks Nintendo. Nintendo giveth and Nintendo taketh away, blessed be the name of Miyamoto.

Well anyway, Pac-Man 99 scratches a similar itch, as 99 players zoom through its classic maze chomping on dots and popping pills. They also eat nutritious fruit, and, well, ghosts. You eat ghosts in Pac-man. Man, Retro gaming is a trip... It was the 70's dude. It's nowhere near as awesome as Mario 35, or maybe I'm just saying that because I won Mario 35 all the time and I never won Pac-Man 99 even once, but whatever. It's a fun little bit of hectic multiplayer, best enjoyed in small bursts, and at free the price is right. Plus there's no guarantee how long the game will be around, so check it out while you can.


Well that's 2021. Good riddance. Actually, Nintendo completely deleting my pick for 2020 GotY is soooo 2021 when you think about it. But that's the past now. Let's take a break from the nihilistic doomsaying and hope for good things. Like Elden Rings and chicken wings.

My 2020 Neogaf GotY Voting Thread Post
This must be the greatest wall of tex in resent history on Neogaf. Take a job as gamereviewer on a Gamingwebsite, and publish books about it ore start a youtube channel. You would be a great contributer on Wikipedia
 
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