- Devil May Cry 3
- Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
- Mother 3
Between the steep difficulty curve and unconventional story, Shin Megami Tensei III won't appeal to everyone - but those who can stomach strategizing through even random battles while reading between the script's lines will be rewarded with an outstanding RPG. Tokyo's warped state post-Conception leads to a hostile atmosphere that's carried all the way to the credits, and dungeons are elaborately designed and make use of consistently fresh gimmicks. Multiple endings keep the story replayable, with Hard Mode offering series veterans even more challenge. There's nuance to every aspect of gameplay, from the Press Turn battle system to Demon fusion and recruitment. As true in 2021 as it was in 2003, Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster is nothing short of a must-play RPG.
NieR Replicant 1.22 is an outstanding remake and an excellent action RPG in its own right. Combat is fast paced, focused, and well varied between three distinct weapon types and eight magic spells. Dungeons appear simple but their design is deceptively clever, and they carry a Legend of Zelda-esque charm to them. The visuals are greatly improved from the original, from character models to background details. Bosses are downright bombastic, masterfully juggling tense battles with visceral set pieces. The story is simply beautiful, making brilliant use of music to amplify already deeply emotional storytelling. Above all else, Replicant plays into concepts only possible in a video game - leading to a genuinely unforgettable experience. If you only play one game this year, make it NieR Replicant 1.22.
Newcomers risk drowning in a sea of references, while franchise veterans are bound to be put off by more cut-scenes than the series is known for, but Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is an astonishingly addictive action-RPG that just gets better as it goes on. A rough opening and choppy plotting undersell a genuinely gripping mystery that reflects on Adol's history as an adventure, culminating in an incredible last act. Falcom's dungeon design is the best it's been in years and the numerous gameplay additions made to combat bring the Seven Engine close to capturing the same highs that defined the Napishtim era. Monstrum Nox may not live up to its narrative potential, but Ys IX's gameplay only leaves one thing to be desired: more.
Featuring a total of 32 games across three downloadable packs and separate downloads, Capcom Arcade Stadium is a fantastic way of diving into the studio's gameography. Roughly 30 years of video game history are on display here, featuring a wide variety of titles that highlight Capcom's eclectic and often forward-thinking approach to game design. The implementation of rewind & save states makes virtually any entry accessible, and the ability to speed up gameplay helps the more sluggish inclusions get much needed play time. Not every game in Capcom Arcade Stadium is a classic that's stood the test of the time, but most surprisingly have, and that alone makes the collection worth picking up.
Juggling sub-par game design with a host of technical issues on the Switch, Gods Will Fall is a painfully disappointing roguelike that plays more like a proof of concept than anything else. Fashioning gameplay around eight distinct playable characters who can all permanently die is certainly interesting and adds an inherent tension to the experience, but stiff controls, laughable enemy AI, and shallow combat do nothing but remind audiences that they can be playing something better. The fact DeepSilver would publish a title so blatantly unready for public consumption - let alone purchase - is frankly baffling. Gods Will Fall is as much a waste of time as it is money.
A fantastic rally sim for newcomers and veterans alike, WRC 9 has only gotten better in its transition to the PlayStation 5. The next-gen console brings with it obvious visual and performance enhancements - pushing gameplay anywhere between 60 & 120 fps - but the real star here is haptic feedback. WRC 9 use of the DualSense controller is outstanding, utilizing sensations and vibrations to add another layer of immersion to racing. Players will feel the road underneath them, the weight of their brakes, and the subtlest shifts in terrain. A mix of addictive arcade gameplay and deeply immersive feedback, WRC 9 exceeds expectations.
Georifters isn't the worst platformer, but an ugly aesthetic and repetitive level design make for a generally unpleasant playthrough. What's especially disappointing is how creative the core mechanics are. Players are encouraged to manipulate the world around them, but stages are so basically built that even the most engaging puzzles barely offer enough stimulation. Georifters does have a fairly decent multiplayer mode, but mainly due to circumstance rather than thought provoking game design.
PGA Tour 2K21 is a fluid take on golf with incredibly tight mechanics that would be perfect for newcomers were it not for 2K's aggressive microtransactions. All sense of progression is held back by an in-game shop that demands hours of grinding on the player's part or real-life money. What is worse is that this practice makes it difficult to enjoy everything the title has to offer. Player customisation moves too slow and career mode simply offers too few rewards to feel rewarding. There is a good game in PGA Tour 2K21 somewhere, but it will never be found so long as microtransactions hold back actual game design.
One of the most addictive rogue-lites on the Nintendo Switch, Heroes of Hammerwatch blends classic action RPG progression with a hostile world design that'll have heroes second guessing every turn they make, and whether or not their next foe will be their last. Procedurally generated level design can never match up to thoughtful handcrafted stages, but HoH is able to cut the difference thanks to its easy to pick up gameplay loop, and an understanding that even the smallest bit of progress is meaningful. Between experimenting with classes, upgrading your town, and dungeon-eering with a trusted group of friends, Heroes of Hammerwatch is a must-play.
Monster Sanctuary is a charming take on the monster raising formula, albeit not without its faults. In spite of this, Monster Sanctuary is an addictive RPG that is hard to put down. Monster hatching is an incredibly simple process, every single monster has its own skill tree, and combat has been balanced enough so that just about any team can get through the main game in the hands of savvy players. Monster Sanctuary is a diamond in the rough if there ever was one.