Neogaf GOTY 2022 |OT| Voting thread

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Well, that was 2022. Don't even think about how much money your government has printed recently and how worthless that makes the money you've been saving up. Sure, the world's gonna get crazy but the vidyagames are pretty dang nice right now, not gonna lie. I played some great old stuff too like Dark Souls - yes, again! But this time I played through the whole game with a level 1 character to prepare for Elden Ring. Spoiler alert: it did not prepare me for Elden Ring.

1. Elden Ring - [PS5] I got my first taste of massive open worlds with Daggerfall in '96. I got bitten and somehow later on turned into a vampire! This totally blew my mind and I suspect the excitement I felt in that one moment of surprise was the driving force that kept me playing its huge but shallow world with bland towns and identical NPCs for much longer than was sensible. Fallout 3 was similar. Backed into a corner where I found my first laser pistol, I felt a thrill as I blasted my way out of there, disintegrating raiders in slow-mo. I actually think open world games are generally like this, where in some perfect moment the promise of massive open worlds, that promise of endless freedom, adventure and discovery, actually seems true and sets the player's heart ablaze. Of course, that illusion is inevitably shattered later, but that treasured memory sticks with you. That's why we keep coming back to open world games when we could be playing games that are more focused, detailed and refined. We want to feel that feeling again, like we're chasing a high.

That gamer's high, that we all had in some cherished open world memory, Elden Ring gives you that feeling A LOT. Stepping out into Limgrave for the first time and seeing the intimidating Tree Sentinel patrolling up ahead, with the gargantuan ruined bridge on the horizon. Looking around and seeing castles, caves, catacombs and camps all just beckoning you towards them. And then you look up and there's the ghostly golden glow of the sky scraping erdtree hanging there above you. It all fills you with awe and you get that high. Then when you encounter your first troll, and you’re trading blows and he suddenly gets serious and draws his sword and the earth shakes as he’s charging around waving it everywhere, but you decide to try a jumping 2-handed R2 to his face, and he falls to his knees giving you the riposte opening, you get that high.

When you’re fighting your first crucible knight for the seventh time and you can never quite seem to get out of the way of his attacks fast enough, and then he goes for his devastating earthquake stomp and suddenly you just know. Like you’re Neo at the end of the matrix realizing he can see all the code, you’re no longer afraid. You avoid the knight’s quake stomp damage by jumping straight up in the air and then parry his slash as you land and suddenly the tables have turned and you feel empowered - that’s when you feel that high.

When you’ve well and truly conquered the incredible Stormveil, and you step out onto the cliffs above Liurna of the lakes and see its vastness stretching out before you and realize after all the amazing things you saw in Limgrave you’re likely just getting started, you get that high. And when you’re exploring the spooky depths at the bottom of a well, making your way past harpoon happy mudmen and giant enemy crabs to a vast cavern with a ceiling so high, the glintstone twinkles like distant stars, and then you’re attacked by freakin’ giant ghost Vikings, of all things, and in that moment it hits you: “wait a minute! this amazing world and its massive map...does it really have an underworld map about the same size as its overworld map?! Meaning it’s roughly double the impressive size I thought it was?!?” Well, that moment you are most definitely feeling that gamer's high.

Of course haters can never understand. “The Lands Between? More like 'The Lands between the crack o' my ass!' The world is EMPTY!” Lol. There’s an avalanche of things to see and do, but can you imagine how dumb it would be if they were all right next to each other with no traversal at all? First off it’s immersion breaking, since IRL space exists between objects. Furthermore, there’s no joy of investigation, no thrill of discovery if you can’t wander off the beaten path and find things on your own. Or how about this one? “They recycle bosses!” Well, that kinda is true. There are almost no boss fights in this game that are not repeated in some form. Usually with some kind of variation, like the boss has a new weapon or is paired up with another boss, but it’s still the same boss. Although this isn’t really a problem. The bosses in this game are so good that I’d be pissed if I didn’t get to fight any of them at least a couple more times and show off that I mastered them. What matters is there is a ton of boss variety. The game is just so massive and has so many boss battles that even with a huge stable of bosses, they end up repeating. If there’s really something you can’t stand about fighting a twist on an awesome boss you already saw, all I can say to you is “gg” and I don’t mean “good game.”

Then there’s the hater’s coup de grâce. “They just keep making the same game over and over again! This is just open world dark souls!” Ding ding ding! You are correct. Somehow, some way, Elden Ring takes the stellar level design and excellent action combat of the souls games and makes an entire, enormous open world odyssey using them, and it's glorious. How glorious? Each dark, spooky cave and creepy catacomb is legitimately designed with thought and care, filled with booty, beasties and bosses for maximum fun. None of that randomized dungeon crap, and no half-assed copy-pasta dungeons either. This absurdly large game has enough legit content for 10 dark souls games at once. And that is precisely why it's easy peezy lemon squeezy game of the yeezy for ole Ebeneezy. For reezy. Everything is the dark souls of this and the dark souls of that. Well now we got the dark souls of open world games.

While masterpiece is an accurate description, Elden Ring has real flaws. The first half of the game just seems to have much better designed areas overall compared to the later game. I'm not talking Izalith lava lake headless chicken dinosaurs, but there is a noticeable decrease in quality. Consider for example, entering Castle Morne with its corpses piled like mountains, creepy disfigured misgotten guarding its paths and climactic beautiful beach battle with a lion man monster, and compare that to say... being in a snow storm where you can't see anything. Or take the winding ways and secret segments of the sublime castle Stormveil, and compare it to something like Deeproot Depths, where a bunch of ruins are just spaced out from each other with 50 annoying basilisks waiting in the bushes. There are still great areas in the late game, but it's a much more uneven experience compared to Elden Ring's frontloaded fabulousness. The late game enemies are so ludicrously tanky as well. I don't know why, but From decided to give late game giant bears and crows enough HP to make the regular game feel like new game++. It's as if they're scared their game might not be hard enough for veteran players, but they can't be assed to come up with a new challenge.

Anyway, I don't wanna bring the party down. Elden Ring is still Dark Souls Christmas, with wonderful weapons, superb spells, and an entire squadron of lore waifus. And while it may not be the greatest game ever made, it is the greatest first half of any game ever made, which is still reason enough to call your mom and start hyperventilating. And this isn't even its final form. Nobody remembers a Dark Souls without Artorias. So as for what Elden Ring will be once all is said and done, with massive DLC the size of a whole normal game added? Well, no one knows for sure, but "Game of the Generation" has a nice, elden ring to it.

2. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 - [Switch] The worlds of Xenoblade Chronicles and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 collide in this game, literally. But they also collide in the sense that their races, places and faces appear. Sometimes the way they're included is disappointingly superficial. Party members like Lanz may look like a Machina, and Eunie may look like a High Entia, but neither know anything of the history and culture of the XC1 races they appear to represent, anymore than Sena and Taion's XC2 core crystals serve a non-cosmetic purpose. Likewise, locations like the distant fingertip and Urayan titan, where I experienced powerful story beats in those first 2 games, now pop up as ruins for environments to be built around in XC3, and while the game has a logical explanation for why all these sentimental sections of the previous Xenoblades appear, it kind of amounts to them not actually being the real versions of those places. Don't get me wrong. These characters end up being great anyway, and the environments have all the delicious diversions and secret summits that Xenoblade is known for, it's definitely level design worthy of the series. But I enjoy myself even more when I'm playing a completely new Xenoblade with a completely original setting, the way I got to in the last 3 games.

There's other times where XC3 ties XC1 and XC2 together perfectly. The battle system is bliss, featuring strengths from both games, and allowing any character to learn any class and mix XC1 cool down battle arts together with XC2 auto-attack recharged arts on the battlefield. Plus there's evasion arts like in XC2, where a button press with precise timing can avoid a powerful enemy attack. It also retains XC2's ability to cancel arts into other arts for increased effect, along with that game's excellent "overkill" system, wherein you get bonus XP and treasure for doing as much damage as possible to an enemy after you've already killed them during a chain attack, so you always have a good reason to do the best chain attack you can.

Speaking of chain attacks, it's not just combining great stuff from the older games that makes XC3's combat so glorious - it has plenty of new things to offer as well, including what is probably the best version of chain attacks ever. Chain attacks are like your team super move, and while I love each game's different version of this mechanic for what they offer, XC3's version has the perfect amount of risk vs reward vs luck vs skill. It feels so great to pull off an excellent chain attack and turn a battle around.

There's much more to praise about the combat than that though. For the first time you can dash around the battlefield quickly! There's "Elites" now, stronger versions of regular monsters that are perfect for when regular enemies seem too weak but uniques seem too strong. And there are unique bosses that fight in teams, so you can fight 2, 3, even 4 bosses at once! Also, aquatically this game is on a whole other level. Every Xenoblade fan knows what it's like to be in a battle on the shore and move too close to the water and suddenly they're swimming like a useless idiot instead of fighting. Well in Xenoblade 3 you can fight whole battles while swimming, and there's a bunch of badass new aquatic monsters to tussle with also.

If you're on the fence about Xenoblade 3, I got 2 words for ya. PIRATE. CATGIRLS.

Really there's so much going on with the combat. The large roster of hero characters who fight alongside you, the huge amount of customization, your Ouroboros transformation where you become a big purple killing machine for a bit... and don't even get me started on my favourite, Noah's late game talent art where he draws his world breaking sword, Lucky 7. That thing is so badass that a power-charged "Gravity Blow" to a launched enemy in the later rounds of a chain attack smashes for millions and can really wreck a boss's HP, even on hard mode.

Graphically, this is the first Xenoblade game since XCX on the WiiU to not constantly be blurry to look at. Thanks to something Digital Foundry calls "temporal upsampling" XC3 finds a way to at least be smooth when it can't be sharp. Voice acting is also excellent, with the exception of Ghondor, who has the most cringe-tastic Australian accent since FFXIII's resident bush-pig Fang. Then there's the music, which has been consistently phenomenal throughout the series. Battle themes were particularly strong in this game. I don't think I could ever see any boss battle theme actually surpassing the legendary energy of "You Will Know Our Names" from the first Xenoblade, but XC3's "You Will Know Our Names Finale" is SO good, I have to consider them equal. The Moebius battle theme is also pretty hype.

The story is good too for what it is. There's dramatic set pieces, big twists and thought provoking themes. But there's a kind of implied promise in setting the game in the combined futures of XC1 and XC2 that you're going to meaningfully connect those futures, and this game didn't really do that in a way that satisfied me. But just like Elden Ring, this isn't even XC3's final form. There's a Torna sized follow up game coming by the end of this year. Maybe it will answer all my burning questions, but then that game really IS Xenoblade 3's final form. It's probably Monolift soft's last Xenoblade game ever.

What a gloomy thought. I love Xenoblade so much that a future without nopon and chain attacks sounds like a dark and scary place where I don't wanna live. But moving on is part of life. We can't just freeze time like some kind of Moebius pussy to avoid moving forward. We gotta be chads and brave the unknown, or we won't get to see Monolift soft's awesome unannounced action rpg!

3. Tunic - [Switch] Tunic is a magical experience. The beauty of indies like this is how a creator's clear artistic vision can be realized without corpo nonsense homogenizing everything to the point where video games all start to feel the same. Which isn't to say Tunic doesn't feel like any other game. Quite the opposite. Tunic is very deliberately designed to make you feel the sense of wonderment and mystery you'd experience as a kid playing The Legend of Zelda in the 80's. Exploring a dark cave and not knowing what you'll find. Coming across a big monster and having to run away. Finding a treasure chest with some exciting new weapon in it...that kind of exploration and discovery is what the game is all about.

Tunic's Nintendo nostalgia is brought to life with visual presentation that's as simplistic as it is stylish. You're looking through a locked isometric window into world of clean, clear fields, forests and ruins, which have treasures and secrets atop beautifully blurred, out of reach cliffs in the foreground. There's deep blue waterfalls, pointy polygonal grass, and long, lingering shadows. Maybe these things wouldn't add up to ooze so much atmosphere if it weren't for the game's incredible soundtrack that accompanies your wanderings, but those chill beats further enhance this isometric indie's immersiveness.

No elaboration on Tunic's artistic pleasures would be complete without mentioning one of the game's ingenious meta mechanics. As you explore Tunic's mysterious map you'll find the scattered pages of what turns out to be the instruction booklet for the very game you are currently playing. Each page is mostly written in a made-up gobbeldygook language, but still provides invaluable hints on where to go and what to do because of the coloured drawings of your little fox character that are copying the charming illustrations of Link in the Zelda manual from the NES days, right down to the golden cover. Zoom in close and you can even see the printer's dots! There's still more to it though, because this is a pre-loved manual, with the coffee stains and frayed edges to prove it, along with helpful notes and doodles that show secret doors scribbled in blue pen. It really is a splendid homage to one of the lost joys of video games, the instruction booklet.

This game is flirting with a Nintendo lawsuit so hard that its nipples are showing, but there's another strong influence on Tunic's design, and that's Fromsoft's sensational souls series. Obviously souls owes a lot to Zelda in the 1st place, but to the extent that souls built on that Zelda template and defined its own path, many of the things that the series is famous for are in this game. You chug health potions like they're estus, resting at bonfire-like shrines allows you to do upgrades but also respawns all the enemies you've defeated, trekking back to your corpse after dying means you can loot treasure from it, you can even parry your enemy's attacks. Most importantly, the game seeks to provide challenging combat, so if you're intrigued by how atmospheric and stylish Tunic sounds but don't like dying a lot the way you do in souls games, just be aware.

For my part I loved the combat, especially the boss fights, as much as I loved wandering about lost pondering the manual and listening to trippy music. But while I had a ton of fun with Tunic, the game did eventually lose me about 75% of the way through. There's another meta mechanic in the late game that had me completely baffled. With some vague help from the manual you're supposed to see "Konami code" style combinations in the environment. For example, in a field with flowerbeds on it, you're meant to observe a pattern from the flower arrangement and enter something like ↑, ←, ↓, ←, ↓, ←, ↓, ←, ↑, →, ↓, →, →, ↓, → on the d-pad. I found this way too obtuse and had to give up doing everything in the game by myself, but even when I cheated and looked things up I still found these puzzles a pain. So Tunic did really put me off at this point, however this is late game optional stuff for completionists, keep in mind. Despite that quibble I still liked Tunic a lot and highly recommend it, especially to those with nostalgia for retro gaming.

4. Bayonetta 3 - [Switch] Bayonetta kind of perfected the action game. Well there's always your Sekiros and Bloodbornes and whatnot, but Bayo perfected a kind of feverishly frantic combo frenzy dodge 'em up that solidified Platinum as the No.1 name in character action games. Everybody from God of War to Kirby copies witch time because everybody wants to be Bayonetta. Even Platinum's other great action games all kind of have that feeling of "it's a bit like Bayonetta, but with x." Revengeance is a bit like Bayonetta with chopping stuff. Wonderful 101 is kinda like Bayonetta with sentai. Well Bayonetta 3 is exactly like Bayonetta, except it's not, because it's Bayonetta... with Kaiju.

All of Bayonetta's classic gameplay elements are here, but there's much ado about these building sized behemoths that you can summon at any time to join in the battle. When you do so, Bayonetta stops moving and does a sexy stripper dance while her giant scorpion or infernal spider trades blows with equally massive enemy monsters. Some people couldn't dig this and it killed their enjoyment of the game. It did bother me at first, mainly because the monsters lurch about so slowly in such a fast paced game, but once Bayo 3 started introducing mechanics that activate monster attacks instantly, like a monster counter button or sudden monster summons during witch time, I warmed up to them real fast and eventually saw Bayonetta's rolodex of kaiju as just another great part of a great game.

Firing up Bayonetta 3 for the 1st time, I was more worried about the new character, Viola. At 1st glance she made me think of the type of character you see in modern movies and tv who shows up to replace the star everyone loves in a politically correct bait-and-switch. I half expected her to turn to the screen and lecture us about how Bayonetta being sexy is wrong and we all need to "do better" while we were forced to play as Viola for most of the game. Fortunately, Viola does not take over the game - she's Bayonetta's goofy sidekick who gets caught in slapstick accidents like tripping over, losing her weapon and even having her pants catch on fire. Gameplay-wise she has her own style based around parrying with her katana rather than dodging. Along with Jeanne's "elevator action meets metal gear solid" 2D levels, Viola's gameplay sections compliment Bayonetta's core missions with just the right amount of variety, and I actually ended up liking the character. Hell, I even found her girly pop punk battle music embarrassingly catchy.

The real problem is that the game can get a bit framey at times. And it's not a looker. I would constantly pause the action during some awesome monster match-up to try and take a cool screenshot, but no matter which way I rotate the camera, everything just looks blobby and grimey. Just to make sure I wasn't crazy I fired up Bayonetta 2 again and sure enough, Bayo 2 is a pretty game. It's obvious what's going on though. I never thought I would ever describe Bayonetta 2 as "sensible" but its levels are mostly combat corridors and appropriate arenas. Bayo 3's ambitiously large levels where you can instantly summon multiple massive monsters are comparatively coo-coo, so it's no surprise the game makes whatever dorito chip the Switch uses for a GPU overclock so hard salsa is leaking out the sides. The prudent gamer might wait and make sure this excellent game is definitely on your list as a top priority for when it gets ported to Nintendo's next system, similarly to how Bayo 2, a Wii U game, is best enjoyed on the Switch.

But even on this hardware it's an awesome game. From Gojira battles to swinging over a huge city like Spiderman, to turning into a train to an astonishing battle where a giant toad demon becomes a gothic popstar princess, this action packed, setpiece stacked combo-gasm IS a must play. Bayonetta 3 has all the wonderful weapons, all the killer combat and all the satisfying scoreboards it needs for its madcap multiverse story to be everything everywhere all at once plus kaijus minus some frames here and there.

5. Tactics Ogre Reborn - [Switch] From humble beginnings in a small village in Niigata prefecture, Yasumi Matsuno somehow ended up directing Ogre battle, FF Tactics, Vagrant Story and a good chunk of FFXII before he’d had enough of Square's BS and jumped ship. If I recall correctly Matsuno wanted, amongst other things, for the stoic warrior Basch to be the protagonist of FFXII while Square wanted it to be the vest flaunting, shirt rejecting sissy boy Vaan. It reminds me of when Raiden was added to MGS2. Konami conducted some market research and found Snake wasn’t appealing to women and thus Raiden, the hero who appeals to everyone, was born. Ahh, the deadly dance of soulless suits vs crazy creatives, with our entertainment lives hanging in the balance.

Tactics Ogre is Matsuno doing whatever he wants, which it turns out is ball busting strategy combat and an eloquently told mature political drama in a fantasy setting. If you've played FF Tactics or seen the empire in FFXII, the immersive, medieval sounding dialogue should be familiar. But now, When heroes are ardently affirming their convictions and villains are jeeringly rehearsing their exposition, each character's lines are enriched by right proper fancy English voice acting that really makes the story cling together.

"I will become a sort of tactical ogre." "That's... not a thing." "Just work with me here."

As obviously similar as Tactics Ogre is to the FF Tactics games, with its isometric pixel platoons and dual wielding ninjas and the whatnot, it has a lot to distinguish it as well. There’s the time turner that lets you undo multiple turns, which you badly need to be honest. There’s also cards that appear on the battle field that give combat bonuses. Collecting a good set of 4 cards can greatly strengthen a unit and really impact the outcome of the fight, but it’s no little thing to spend all those turns chasing cards down when there’s a battle raging. You can also recruit dragons, cockatrices and even octopuses (octopi?) to wage war with you. If you never played it and you like the genre, Tactics Ogre is a legit classic that’s perfect for the switch.
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6. Triangle strategy - [Switch] I totally skipped Octopath traveler but when I saw this turn based strategy game with the same pixel art presentation I was on board immediately - I'm such a big fan of the genre. I really thought that name would get changed by the time it released though. I mean... Triangle Strategy? How about "The Saltiron Saga: Wolffort's Legacy?" or "Norzelia Chronicles: Snow, Sand and Blood?" Or even "Tripath Home-Stayer?"

Okay so all of those suck and naming things is hard. Good to know. But you know what else is hard is the difficulty of this game on hard mode. Mostly in a good way. The only thing I didn't like is that the game's way of increasing its challenge is by making regular enemies feel like tanky high damage dealers. That's just a personal pet peeve of mine, but even on hard if I do a crit with my strongest attack, I want the damage to be really satisfying, or it kind of destroys the power fantasy of videogames. Imagine a game where your sniper gets a headshot on a regular enemy and it doesn't kill them. There are other ways to make games hard, for example increasing the amount of enemies, or mixing special tanky enemies in with the regular enemies.

But aside from that quirk, the difficulty is implemented quite well. I would often get to the end of a mission with only a few party members standing, things were that tight, which is really great. One particularly cool thing about Triangle Strategy is the game lets you build on your failures as well. There was this mission where the story insists that you have to burn down your own village to resist an enemy invasion, but I thought maybe I could win without burning the village down. So I kept trying, and sure enough I eventually managed to pull it off, with the characters acknowledging this in the story. Moreover, each time that I failed that mission, my characters kept their XP from the attempt, so even when I wasn't winning I was building up my power level a little bit.

On the bright side, if they want salt this badly it's safe to assume there's no potato famine

Your army is not made of generic classes like "archer" or "mage" but instead each character you recruit has their own unique upgrade path. So there are around 3 or so people who can be archers and they each do it a little differently, and there's 3 or 4 people who can be mages, etc. This character might be great with fire spells, that one with ice, another would be balanced at both, that kind of thing. I found each character's early game abilities pretty meh. Very standard abilities that don't offer a variety of satisfying strategic applications. However, their elite late game abilities are totally legit. I'm talking about a cleric's auto-revive ability that allows a killed ally to instantly come back with full hp, or a medic who can use 10 healing items at once to heal your entire army. Your tanky shield bro gets an ability where he makes himself invincible for 1 turn and taunts every nearby enemy. These badass endgame abilities are absolutely pivotal.

Since I replayed Tactics Ogre this year, I can't help noticing with interest just how much of your time Triangle Strategy devours trying to immerse you in its mature fantasy story, while Tactics Ogre effortlessly achieves this without being so exhausting and long winded. A few lines from a villain in that game will tell you everything you need to know about them and delight you with their colourful, Shakespearean prose. In constrast, Triangle Strategy drones on endlessly trying to set up the political intrigue of some sort of baby's first pixel Game of Thrones with all its betrayals and betrotheds. The story isn't bad, not exactly, and it has multiple branching paths based around the triangle theme. It has some silly stuff like treating salt as if it's the frickin' spice from Dune and there is some nonsense where villain's motivations are concerned, but overall I'd say the story is fine for what it is. It's just the way that story's told is so inefficiently, excessively chatty that it's tedious.

Do they not realize the pink Himalayan stuff isn't iodized? It's basically worthless

Which is Triangle Strategy's biggest problem, really - a bad story to gameplay balance. If you like a good strategy game and that doesn't deter you, it's a goer. And even if it does, well...we all fast forward through the enemy's turn in combat, why not fast forward through their indulgent lines of dialogue as well? After all, you can always pause and back up to read the chat logs if you feel you missed something.

So there you have it. Putting that bad story to gameplay balance aside it's a pretty good strategy game in the spirit of Tactics Ogre or Final Fantasy Tactics, and...Wait... "Triangle Tactics!" That's it! That's the perfect name! FTFY, Squeenix.

7. Kirby and the Forgotten Land - [Switch] Feels like I've said this before, but they've gotten really good at making Kirby games now guys. You know how haters say Nintendo games are all just sickeningly cute and colourful simple games for little babies? Well, in Kirby's case that's actually 100% correct. But Still. Since about the time of 3DS games like Triple Deluxe and Planet Robobot, they've worked hard on offsetting Kirby's simplistic suction system's staleness by adding variety and creativity. As long as a game is interesting and imaginative, it's okay to be chill instead of challenging.

Well this is peak puffball. It's the grandest Kirby production ever - his own fully 3D HD adventure with all the "suck 'em up" based power ups that Kirby is known for, and the focus on gameplay variety of his recent outings. The Kirbster will now dislocate his jaw, snake-like, in order to swallow and control large objects like sports cars, vending machines and hang gliders so he can race, spit soda cans like bullets, and fly. He can also inhale enough water to become a giant water balloon, turn into a light bulb, there's all manner of crazy transformations to shake up gameplay.

This "forgotten land" Kirby's exploring is actually the cutest post apocalyptic setting in history. But don't worry, despite their overgrown appearance, the derelict shopping mall and rusty amusement park are somehow still stocked with fresh cakes and pastries for the marshmallow mascot's maw. Getting to the end of each sugary sweet level while listening to the game's breezy beats is usually a light matter, but there are secrets and challenges with rewards to add replay-ability. Some of it is very on brand stuff for Kirby, like finding all the sad baby ducks in an area and reuniting them with their mother, but there are also timed challenges and no hit boss runs.

Speaking of bosses, the game also has some good boss fights. I'm not gonna lie and tell you that they're really hard, but they ARE hard to not find adorable. You'll battle a giant cartoon gorilla, an armadillo, a leopard lady and her lion friend, and as they unleash their killer attacks at you, you can slow-mo dodge them like witch time in Bayonetta. Why can you do that in a Kirby game? Because it's cool and fun, that's why! These boss fights climax with an epic ending that's amusingly over the top for this chill little game, but the fun doesn't stop there. There's post game content like minigames, remixed levels and an arena where you can kirb stomp every boss. It's not even controversial to say this is the best Kirby game ever. I have a real soft spot for Canvas Curse on the DS, and have fond memories of chilling in Tiny Town there, but that's not even a proper Kirby game, it's a DS stylus path painter. So yeah. Best Kirby eva!

You should kirb your enthusiasm a little bit though. It's not a triple A Super Mario adventure or close to that level of experience - It's a lovely little platformer that has a good, relaxing vibe and works particularly well as a palette cleanser between more serious, more intense games. It would also be perfect to introduce to a kid that has graduated from Yoshi's Woolly world and is ready for a higher level of complexity in their gameplay. And you're able to back them up with the game's 2 player mode as they do so. Kirby and the Forgotten Land is chill, charming and filled with good energy. Whether you're down for its light platforming, cute characters and adorable adventure or not, we can all agree...Kirby sucks.

8. God of War Ragnarök - [PS5] I've never been a GoW person. I pushed some crates and mashed some combos in the first game and I was OUT. I never saw the appeal at all. To me, Kratos typified that era's "badass with attitude" cliché design that was super cringe. Well, the hero may look like a palette swap of Quan Chi from Mortal Kombat to me, but for seemingly everyone else in the entire world, Kratos is their No.1 favourite grunting kilt man. Ask any rando "who is the god of war?" and 9 times out of 10 they won't say Ares or Mars, but Kratos. All sorts of people whose opinions I respect get hype every time a new god of war game comes out, so shouldn't I give Baldy McCombomash another chance? UGGGHH. Fine. If I have to.

Hold up though. Ever since 2018's creatively named God of War, the series has "borrowed" elements from games I like, specifically the rolling and parrying of dark souls. THAT sounds promising. And people started calling him "Dad of War" because allegedly the story is really something now, with family relationships in it or whatever. Moreover, whenever I browse forums I find people who like the old games that I hated saying the new games suck and the old ones were better. Logic dictates then, that I who hated the old games, must therefore like these new games. Airtight.

Soooo what are we looking at here. It's a Sony movie game, and everything that entails. Lots of walkin', lots of talkin', and you best believe there's gonna be lots of talkin' while walkin'. Then there'll be a classy cutscene and a massive action set piece before you get your walk-and-talk on.

The combat is greatly improved from what I remember though. You really can parry monsters just like a certain great action RPG series we won't mention again and Kratos has a new weapon: an icey Mjölinaxe to compliment his firey chain thingos. The combat's really good. I had fun with it. But the upgrade screen is too cluttered and busy for my tastes, and constantly while you're mashin' on some monster a big red arrow is flashing while your allies are yelling "behind you! behind you!" so you gotta like, roll out of the way of a charging enemy or something.

Just spitballing, but couldn't that red arrow be a context sensitive prompt to turn and do a cool counter attack then seamlessly return to the combo you were doing to keep the combat fluid? There's gotta be a more elegant way to do combat in a 3D space where enemies can surround you. Again, just spitballing but what if we don't have the camera zoomed all the way up Kratos's buttcrack all the time? Why not just pull it back so you can see the monsters around him? This is all sounding a bit negative but the combat really is enjoyable, and it gets better as you progress. I said the upgrade screen is overwhelmingly cluttered at first - but at least it's full of all kinds of cool moves you can upgrade and play around with. And chopping a dude's head off is just as satisfying here as it was in Barbarian on the C64 in 1987.

So yeah, the combat's fine, but What's the gameplay like between fights? Well, there's lots of environmental puzzles. Some of them are pretty annoying honestly, like the awful sigil puzzles, but most of them are tolerable I guess. And then there's the gameplay that isn't gameplay. The bulk of your "exploration" for the first half of the game is not exploration at all, but really the levels are conversation corridors. Way too often you're looking at gorgeous scenery that looks like you should be able to touch it, but it's actually invisible walls and you're kinda on rails as the characters talk extensively. I found myself praying a fight would break out so they would stop babbling about realms or prophecies or whatever. I'm sorry, I didn't realize this game was called God of Lore.

The high emphasis on story, and specifically delivering story disguised as gameplay via walk-n-talks, made GowR a very uneven experience for me. I like parts of it a lot, it's just so committed to being like, a marvel movie or something when it's supposed to be a game. It does some good movie stuff, I guess. Voice acting is great, some characters like the dwarves can be funny and have surprisingly good dramatic arcs as well, the writers understand fundamentals like setup and pay off. But what they don't understand is games are so much bigger than movies because they're so much better than them. What gets bigger the more you take away from it? Hollywood's influence, inexplicably.

Once you get past the halfway mark where Kratos gets his third weapon, everything gets better. There are still gonna be conversation corridors but there's generally more variety and freedom. You'll get all these special runes you can use to give your weapons super moves, and there's an arena with great combat challenges like beating a squad of invincible enemies by knocking them off the stage or an endurance battle against 99 opponents. There's side quests and treasure and these really badass optional fights with enemies called berserkers. They can practically 1-shot you, which makes for really intense duels where you parry them over and over with a resounding gong and dodge their killer attacks at the last second. I loved these duels, but there are some fights where you have to take on multiple berserkers at once, and I had to nope out and come back and beat them in the late game with my weapons and armour upgraded. It's too annoying to try and fight 2 or 3 dudes who can 1-shot you with the camera zoomed in so close during combat. Although I suppose you do have the kid of war there to even the odds by giving you a heads up whenever your body catches on fire.

The best part of the whole game is an optional late area called "The crater." It's a larger level that's just a monster stomping grounds filled with treasure and bosses. I killed so many badass dragons there I felt like I was in Elden Ring for a minute. If more of the game was like this, if the first half wasn't such a poorly paced walky talk, if the puzzles could ease up a bit, if the game didn't think of itself as a movie first and a game second, if the ending was some kind of spectacular battle, and if the camera could zoom out to show what's happening better in combat then GoWR would be pretty high on my list.

After listening to the kid of war whining about having wet socks, or listening to the ex of war berate me for not caring for my wolves properly while she leaves her giant turtle to freeze to death, sometimes I'd be thinking it's time to put the controller down. But then suddenly I'd get attacked by a werewolf and I'd totally rip his jaw off and I'm like "hells yeah, bitch! Let's go! Every time I'm out, they pull me back in!" But in that moment the game would be all like "whoa whoa slow down there, sonny. We got a lotta lore to discuss while walking like a tank and squeezing through cave entrances." Kratos did a great job ripping the jaw off that werewolf, and in that moment I was having fun and really happy with the game. But ultimately what I really needed was for the devs to rip the metaphorical jaw off the figurative werewolf that is not putting romantic yak rides through a swamp in a game about decapitating pantheons. But hey. This is still a victory of sorts for Sony anyway, because I went from hating Kratos back in the day to actually liking him now. Turns out, all he really needed was some pants.

9. Lost Judgement: The Kaito Files - [PS5] Aren't Yakuza games the best slash worst? Inspiring acts of heroism, action packed confrontations and intriguing characters combined with ancient minigames, recycled locations and a battle system that gets repetitive over the course of a whole game? Well here is a compact Yakuza experience you can finish in a day or 2 that still gives you the series signature moments of machismo and drama without getting a chance to overstay its welcome. Yagami Detective Agency's Masaharu Kaito is going solo in this DLC adventure. Yagami doesn't even cameo, he's off solving a different case, so Kaito really is the mind and the muscle this time. He does a fine job of the detective work, and it's not just clue hunting that returns but also the tailing and stealth busywork games. There's not too much of them though - their inclusion is proportionate to size of the overall experience.

In combat, Kaito can alternate between 2 styles. Picking up a motorcycle and then mowing through a gaggle of gangstas while shielding your body with it feels great, as does sidestepping a thug and just picking him up and tossing him like a bag of garbage. There's less moves to unlock than a full Yakuza game, but certainly enough to carry you through this relatively short experience. This adventure is a highly personal story about Kaito's past coming back to haunt him. The gang is not all here, you literally won't even see Yagami's face, but some of the gang is here and the new villains and supporting cast are good. If you're in the mood for some Yakuza goodness and not in the mood for a million random battles, this bite sized gangster gaiden has got you covered.

10. Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope - [Switch] What do you do when you love Mario and love X-com, but you hate Ubisoft and hate the Rabbids? You suck it up and play the Mario + Rabbids game anyway. That's what I did with the first game, Kingdom Battle, and I had a decent enough time. Mario + Rabbids 1 did a good enough job of being creative and making each character feel different that I really did have fun playing around with all of their movesets and exploiting the game's leapfrogging positional mechanics to maximize damage opportunities, even though the combat wasn't super challenging.

The other half of that game was less enjoyable though. While X-com's excellent turn based battles were broken up by an equally addictive base building simulator, Mario + Rabbids had you exploring a 3D world and solving environmental puzzles when you weren't carrying out a bloodless, kid friendly war in charming, cartoony trenches. It actually seemed pretty great at first - Ubisoft did an adequate imitation of Nintendo's colourful style, and the early exploration > puzzle > combat loop was pleasant enough. But as you progressed, puzzles become exasperatingly tedious time wasters whose environments lose their personality as they fold in on themselves to try and accommodate whatever winding pipe maze or exhausting block pushing puzzle will give you the flimsy reward of having a list update to tell you that you now have 12/14 pointless collectable doodads in the classic Ubisoft shopping list style.

I hate to say it, and it is to a lesser degree, but Sparks of Hope has the same strengths and the same weaknesses as the first game. The environmental puzzles aren't quite as tedious as Kingdom Battle, but they're still more tedious than say, God of War Ragnarök, another game with too much switch flipping and lever toggling padding things out between more enjoyable combat gameplay segments. The truth is, there were still multiple unvisited planets looming ahead of me when I already got completely bored of the exploration part of Sparks of Hope, and it was a grind to get to that finish line. On a more positive note, I did still really like playing with and upgrading each character's moveset, and Rabbid Rosalina was an especially fun new party member.

All things considered, though, I'd say the best Mario + Rabbids experience is surprisingly the Donkey Kong DLC from the first game. It's a small but complete game in and of itself, offering a better balance of new units with cool abilities to play with versus exploration and puzzles, on account of its more sensible length. Maybe Sparks of Hope can get a short but sweet DLC adventure where you get to play as the real Rosalina - that would be kinda hype.

Honourable mentions:

x. Pokémon Arceus Legends - [Switch] While I liked Pokémon Blue on the original Gameboy, subsequent attempts to connect with the biggest media franchise in the entire world have seen me bounce off it pretty hard. This one stuck though, because of some refreshing features like exploration, battles and pokémon hunting taking place in a 3D open world. I actually liked it enough to beat the game, but it still couldn't crack my top 10.

x. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Shredder's Revenge - [PS5] Despite how much I adored both the franchise and the arcade game as a kid, this one didn't hit home with me as hard as something like Streets of Rage 4. It's still a blast with its constant colourful action and deep cut references, but one afternoon and you're pretty much done... It doesn't keep me coming back the SoR4 does. Great to have on hand for some couch co-op though. The more, the merrier. Like, we're talking 6 player levels of merriment.

x. Star Ocean The Divine Force - [PS5] A weird one to be sure, having the vibe of a grand JRPG adventure and also feeling slapped together and cheap in places. Really the "doll faced" people are not much of a problem. Despite their unnerving, soulless stares, Most of the characters are likeable and interesting and play off each other well, from the super powered super genius blow-up doll android to the Optimus Primey Cyborg Samurai to the laser pistol wielding galactic fed girl. Even the mullet-maned main character is actually very likeable. I found his "let's get this job done where the hell's my coffee" blue collar boss personality refreshing. The only party member striking me as preposterous was the Willy Wanka purple top hat steampunk wizard who is played off as a wise, serious character. It's not an incredible cast or anything but I would take this lot over the party members in recent Final Fantasy games any day of the week.

I found the premise intriguing too. Space bro crashes on a medieval planet and doesn't follow the prime directive. Knights and wizards are aghast at technology he uses like radios, making for some interesting and funny moments, although it's somewhat wasted potential as you could do a lot more great stuff with this concept than the game actually bothers to. And for some reason even though the natives are astonished by science, space bro never raises an eyebrow when like, a healer uses magic to literally raise someone from the dead, lol. As far as Star Ocean's problems go, its huge environments are for the most part empty and boring, with drab colours, especially in the early game. And it has one of those real time JRPG combat systems, feeling more like a simplistic action game than a deep RPG. Plus the game is just generally inconsistent, feeling polished in one area and then sloppy in the next. So should you play it? I don't know! Do whatever you want. I had enough fun to play it all the way to the end, but even though I kinda liked it, I don't feel comfortable recommending such an uneven experience.

x. Sports Story - [Switch] I was a bit worried about Sports Story because of how much it was expanding on Golf Story's core idea by adding too many other sports and things, but it seems my concerns were misplaced, because Sports Story, despite being a pixel art golf game, has severe technical issues at launch...bugs and crashes during exploration and frame drops when you pull out your golf clubs. It would even get framey while I was using the classic golf meter mechanic to determine the power and accuracy of my shot. So I would hit "A" when the power meter is full, and the game would lag out and not register my input. In a pixel art game? Totally unacceptable. I'm praying a patch will turn things around, because the charming world and amusing writing from the first game are still present, making me very much want to be able to love this one.

Aaaaand that's muh list.

It really was a great year for gaming, but 2023 looks insanely stacked.

Zelda. Rem4ke. Street Fighter 6. Divinity's Gate 3. FFXVI. Diablo 4. Xenoblade 3 DLC. Darkest Dungeon 2. Persona 4 again. Like a Dragon sequel. Babynetta Origins. Pikmin 4 probably. Metal Slug Tactics maybe. Starfield I guess. Hell, maybe FFVIIR Part 2 even. You need a second job to afford all the games you can't play cuz you're at work.

My 2021 Neogaf GotY Voting Thread Post
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Neo Member
I put Vampire Survivors in as many categories as made sense. It should 1000% win best value, best indie game.
I voted Tunic in several categories.
I also voted Horizon Forbidden West in several, best graphics, best RPG, best voice acting, best art design.

Reizo Ryuu

I wish there was a list for every category, I don't remember all the stuff I've played and a lot of it was backlog stuff; voted for 3 categories.

Edit: see completely forgot that I played elden ring lol.
Edit2: figured it out

Reizo Ryuu's selections:

Game of the YearMarvels Midnight Suns
Best Action GameBayonetta 3
Best Adventure GameElden Ring
Best RPGPokemon Scarlet and Violet
Best PlatformerClick to Vote
Best ShooterDestiny 2: The Witch Queen
Best Sports GameForza Horizon 5: Hot Wheels
Best Fighting GameDNF Duel
Best Indie GameVampire Survivors
Best Multiplayer GameEvil Dead: The Game
Best Remake or RemasterLive A Live
Best Visual StyleSignalis
Best SoundtrackBayonetta 3
Best UI or HUD designA Plague Tale: Requiem
Best Voice ActingEvil Dead: The Game
Best Box ArtEvil Dead: The Game
Best character designGotham Knights
Best Overall ValueMonster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak
Most Underrated GameGigaBash
Most Difficult GameClick to Vote
'It should have been on Gamepass'Dragon Ball: The Breakers
Game that respects your timeVampire Survivors
Game that deserves a sequelBayonetta 3
Game I bought, but didn't playANNO: Mutationem
Best first hour of gameplayBayonetta 3
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Gentlemen, we can rebuild it. We have the capability to make the world's first enhanced store. Steam will be that store. Better than it was before.
Punished Miku Punished Miku I think if you would have played Xenoblade Chronicles 3, it would have changed your GOTY vote lol

Punished Miku

Gold Member
Punished Miku Punished Miku I think if you would have played Xenoblade Chronicles 3, it would have changed your GOTY vote lol
I do want to play it! Been waiting for the mood to hit me. Maybe I need to make time sooner than I expected 🤔 . I also didn't get to play Mario + Rabies 2.

I really wanted to give Signalis an award but couldn't find a spot for it. Notable misses for this year are best story and best dialogue which should be on there next year, maybe with best horror game but thats a pretty niche category.
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