Star Ocean: The Divine Force is absolutely the return to form I so desperately wanted for the series, and it’s a game I legitimately, whole-heartedly adore, but it’s also held back by some baffling design decisions and outright unacceptable performance issues. The music is fantastic and the cast even more so, with strong performances across the board. The story is serviceable and does a fair job at touching on some fundamental philosophical questions about governance and humanity, though it lacked the “wait, what?” surprise factor I expect from SO titles. The world is lived in and warm, and benefits from the addition of D.U.M.A. for faster and more vertical exploration. It’s also gorgeous, from detailed locales to beautiful character designs.
Amnesia: Later x Crowd is an honestly baffling product. For all of Later’s faults, Crowd makes up for them two-fold, providing one of the most fun and emotionally rewarding gaming experiences I’ve had in a long time. Memories may be the overall better story, but Crowd is the overall better game, and this package is held back only by the lackluster Later. Even with that, though, Crowd was legitimately so good – in spite of the typos and untranslated text in After Story – that I can’t help but recommend it. It’s worth the $49.99 price tag.
Even with these issues, though, Stray is undoubtedly one of my favorite gaming experiences of the year. The freedom of exploration offered by the novel protagonist, the dense world-building, and the atmospheric sound design all coalesced to provide an emotionally-moving and poignant game that I still can’t stop thinking about. I have a couple trophies left to get, but even if I didn’t, I’d still boot up the game just to walk around the city, drink in the sights and sounds, and find a comfortable place to catnap so I could listen to the stray purr contentedly. Despite its short length and some technical issues, Stray is definitely going into my list of impactful games and I’m really happy I had the chance to play it.
Overall, I enjoyed my time with Birushana: Rising Flower of Genpei. The characters were charming, well-acted, and gorgeous; I’m a sucker for historical fiction, and experiencing an alternate version of the Genpei War made for a really exciting scenario; and the sound design was completely on point. Unfortunately, the game also suffered from some glaring grammatical issues that cannot be ignored. If you’re a fan of samurai or historical drama, Birushana is worth checking out, but that recommendation comes with a massive caveat thanks to what I found as less-than-professional proofreading. In the end, your tolerance for grammatical errors is YMMV, and for me they weren’t enough to take me out of the game entirely, but for others it might be a bridge too far.
Despite any issues I had with the game, though, Endwalker was an experience I cherish, not only as a longtime Final Fantasy XIV player, but as someone who loves the power stories have to explore difficult subjects, but still affirm the beauty of humanity. Endwalker made me angry, sad, joyful and everything in between throughout its runtime. It’s been absolutely brilliant, and I am forever thankful for the chance to experience this story and this world.
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero – Ultimate Edition has a lot of fun to offer beginners and veteran adventure players, with adorable characters, vibrant levels, a great score, and plenty of replayability. While it isn’t particularly difficult, the various modes and DLC adventures offer a bit more challenge than the main adventure, and we can always use more Shantae in our lives. It took me just short of seven hours to beat the base game, and each DLC story is around two to three hours, so it’s the perfect length for someone who can’t dump too much time into a single game. For $15 USD, you can’t go wrong picking this one up.
Lost Judgment is an amazing game with a relevant, compelling story, memorable characters, gorgeous locales and an impressive soundtrack. Combat is incredibly fluid and fun, and there is an absolute truckload of things to do. It has its pitfalls, but the good so far outweighs the bad and I can’t help but place this in my Game of the Year contender list. It’s a shame the future of this series is in limbo, but I can only hope we get to see some more adventures of Yagami and Co. for years to come.
Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir is a solid, enjoyable mystery to play. I loved exploring Myoujin Village and learning about the cast, or swapping between the orchestrated arrangement and original chiptune songs. The game is also a time capsule into Nintendo’s past and the early days of graphic adventures on console, and has aged remarkably well. I sort of wish they’d included the original version of the game, if only for comparison’s sake, but having the music is a nice touch. The game even comes with a Music Mode you unlock after completing it. It’s a nice touch. Will this title wow veteran visual novel and graphic adventure aficionados? Not really. But for its place in the genre’s history, I think it’s worth a shot.
There is a lot to love about Nocturne. The story is relevant and timeless, the characters engaging. The Vortex World of post-apocalyptic Tokyo is eerily beautiful, the dungeons varied. The voice acting is all around pretty solid (I played using the Japanese cast, since I prefer original language to dubs). Even the game’s vaunted difficulty, for all the anguish and frustration it caused, has its own charms. Some of the game design choices feel distinctly of their era and returning to them 20 years on feels archaic and cumbersome, but despite those flaws, Nocturne stands the test of time and remains one of gaming’s best RPGs. You owe it to yourself to play it if you haven’t before, and to revisit it if you have. The HD remaster is a fantastic addition to the SMT library.
Ryte – The Eye of Atlantis is a perfectly okay game hampered by janky physics and technical issues. When the game leans into its Atlantean subject, it’s the best part of the experience, but unfortunately, it’s few and far between. The music is good and I liked the attention to detail in the locations, I just wanted more from them. The French voice acting is fine, but the English was stiff and amateur at best. If you like Greco-Roman architecture or are big into Atlantean lore, you could pick the game up on sale, but at $19.99 USD, it has too many technical issues to recommend over other VR puzzle games out there.
I really, really loved my time with ALTDEUS. Gorgeous character designs, fantastic voice work, compelling narrative and memorable characters all coalesced into the best gaming experience I’ve had this year. Science-fiction is one of my favorite genres because of how often it asks difficult questions about our relationships with the world and others in it, and ALTDEUS provided that in spades. Love, grief, obsession, self-loathing, sacrifice – it’s all here in one neat package. The use of VR technology to tell this story was also a boon. There’s nothing specific to the narrative that requires it be a VR title, but how that narrative is presented really took advantage of the immersive qualities VR can provide. Watching Noa’s concerts, embracing another character, fighting giant monsters – I don’t think any of it would have felt as impactful had it not been front and center. It also helped me better relate to Chloe’s emotional journey, because I saw the world literally through her eyes. What a fantastic use of the medium, and a must-play for any VR player.
Moss is a great game, not only for VR but in general. Quill and the characters she meets are charming, and the storybook nature of this tale are a great hook. The story itself is nothing especially groundbreaking, but it’s well-written, and I love the presentation. The only other animal protagonist I’ve found as endearing as Quill is Trico from The Last Guardian, and that is high praise. I love her. Please give me all the merchandise of her. My biggest complaint is, simply, that the game ends so soon! You can easily finish Moss in about three to five hours, depending on how determined you are to find all the hidden items across the game’s seven chapters, and each chapter is an easily-digestible 20-30 minutes. Since the puzzles always have the same solutions, there isn’t a lot of replayability, but that didn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying the time I spent with the game and its DLC. This is a must-play for anyone interested in VR and a great showcase for the medium’s strengths.
Overall though, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is a fun, engaging hack-and-slash take on the world and characters of Breath of the Wild, and I very much enjoyed my time with the game, sans fighting with the camera. While the restrictions placed on exploration and travel did occasionally make me long for the freedom of the game’s more open world counterpart, it was still beautiful in its own right, with a wonderful soundtrack, fun, memorable characters, and a predictable but sometimes surprisingly moving story. I will always be happy when I get to see Zelda’s struggles and accomplishments, and this game provided that in a delightful package.
Everyone wants to be the hero of their own story. Whether it’s taking care of loved ones, overcoming hardship, or grasping for a dream, I can think of no one who isn’t seeking some sort of place in this world. To say 2020 has been a bit rough for a whole lot of people would be an understatement, and Ichiban Kasuga was definitely the hero I needed this year. His strong heart, unwavering resolve, and unconditional love for those most important to him were the sort of positivity I craved. He would have been my favorite protagonist of all the games I played this year regardless, but he shone extra brightly in the darkness, and I adore him all the more for it. Ichiban’s struggles and triumphs were relatable and heartbreaking and beautiful, all at once, and helped propel his game not only to Game of the Year status, but also ousted Yakuza 5 from its pedestal as favorite game in the series. Ichiban is the hero everyone deserves, and I think his absolute banger of an anthem puts it best: “You may have nothing, yet you’ve got the bravery to go forth and lead a wonderful life.”
Little Witch Academia: VR Broom Racing is a fun little title that takes advantage of virtual reality’s ability to break physical boundaries to provide an engaging flight simulation. The animation and acting help bring these quirky characters to life in an immersive episode that has a rather predictable story but still sticks the landing thanks to wearing its heart on its sleeve. If you’re into VR, this is a great title to grab.
In the roughly 15 hours I spent with No Straight Roads, I got to experience a fun ride with a lot of things to say about the music industry, fan entitlement, the ways artists deal with both the positive and negative aspects of fame and creativity, and the messiness of trying to fix a broken system. In their quest to overthrow NSR and bring back rock, Mayday and Zuke also trod on those who genuinely enjoyed the EDM they were hearing, and were on their way to instating rock as the law of the land. Would that make them better than NSR, or just as bad? How much room do we allow for differing voices? When does one voice become so overwhelmingly strong – either through popularity, force, or a combination – that it silences others? And how do artists deal with balancing their personal creative wants with appeasing those who love their creations? When do the fans dictate the creativity rather than the artist? NSR has something to say about each of these – some more coherently than others – and even if I don’t agree with its conclusions in all cases, it sure made a for a fun argument along the way.
If you enjoy meta-fiction the way I do, I think you’ll enjoy your time with The Wanderer: Frankenstein’s Creature. Clocking in at around two hours, the game is brisk but does offer replay value. The game touches on several concepts near and dear to my heart, including the idea that fiction exists beyond its creator, as well as what constitutes immortality. It’s a somber look at depression, but also finds the beauty in a flawed existence. There’s very little gameplay to be had, but like a good book or film, the questions The Wanderer poses about life, love, complicity, and free will stick with me.
I wanted to like my time with Double Kick Heroes more than I did. It’s got a great soundtrack, memorable aesthetic, and a fun concept in a rhythm shooter. Playing the game tended to be more frustrating and physically uncomfortable for me than fun, however, even taking advantage of the numerous options available. For metal fans, this game is a must-play, if only for the ear worms, and I would suggest rhythm fans check it out if they want a challenging, albeit frustrating, title. That being said, I think I’d rather just listen to the soundtrack.
How far would you go to get revenge? How much would you sacrifice for forgiveness? How do you deal with guilt when it eats you from inside? Is there a line you won’t cross, or is everything fair game to make someone else pay for your pain? None of these are easy questions with simple answers, and The Last of Us Part II doesn’t really offer a definitive answer, either. It can’t, and if it did, it would ring hollow. Instead we’re left with the wreckage of two lives spurred on by vengeance and the hope that, maybe, there is closure for the worst of us.