i will now review 74 games that i completed in 2022
So 2022. What a year, huh? I did some digging — turns out my average from 2015, when I started tracking completions, until now was about 57–58 games a year. If we remove 2015’s measly 33 completions, we leap up to 63 games a year.
This year, we finished — and I prefer ‘finished’ to ‘beat,’ because not every game can or should be ‘beaten,’ which implies it was a challenge of some kind — a pretty decent number! That’s right, we completed… SEVENTY-FOUR GAMES!
Every year, I find there’s some kind of theme to the games I’ve played, but only in hindsight. It’s never planned. This year? Hmm… well, I’d have to say… it was a lot of games I didn’t love? It was a hard year — really hard. Death in the family, PTSD stuff, like, it was just… a very hard year, which meant I didn’t play as many games as I would’ve hoped.
Then dumb shit — computer part failures, health complications, and other stuff made it even harder. Suffice it to say, definitely one of the hardest years of my entire life so far. Top 3 worst, for sure. So that sucks.
Back in January, I said the games I was looking forward to finishing were… well, let’s go see.
What am I looking forward to in 2022? Well…
Xenoblade Chronicles X
Vampire the Masquerade Bloodlines
Final Fantasy 9
Final Fantasy 12
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne
Digital Devil Saga
God of War 2 (not Ragnarok, literally the original God of War 2 for PS2)
Persona 4 Golden
Dark Souls 1, 2, and 3
Of these games, I still need to get to…
Final Fantasy 9
Final Fantasy 12
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Digital Devil Saga
God of War 2
Persona 4 Golden
Dark Souls 1, 2, and 3
Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna: The Golden Country
Xenoblade Chronicles 3
Persona 3 Portable PC
However, in Final Fantasy 9’s case, I lost my saves and I decided to play Final Fantasy 6 and Chrono Trigger first, pushing that back. You could say I played 6 and Chrono Trigger in place of 9 and 12. KOTOR I’m streaming with my buddy Cory, the voice of Bill in Adios, and it can be difficult to match up our schedules! Instead of Digital Devil Saga, I decided to play Soul Hackers and Soul Hackers 2, so that’s two games for the price of one. Dark Souls games were offline from like February — where we’d been making great progress — to like late November? The others… well, I kept finishing other games I had on my backlog, usually games that seemed shorter, or games I’d started way earlier, like Fire Emblem: Three Houses. It was a catchup year, for sure.
Sadly, Dark Souls currently has an issue where my buddy Sean, who so graciously took me through Demon’s Souls and Bloodborne, cannot connect to our other buddy Cameron and me. So we finally, after weeks of trying, moved onto Dark Souls 2, but it’s December and I was at like 55 games completed, so I wanted to work hard on clearing more games from the backlog first.
Different people complete games in different ways. My own personal preference is to experience as many worlds as possible, as many modes of game. As someone who wants to be well-versed in the medium so I can understand it, so I can emulate the way a great chef understands all sorts of techniques right down to the chemistry of the food he’s cooking, going through lots of games is where I find joy. I know other people play them for different reasons — mastery, for instance, or because they have a subscription, or because they want to chill out, or because they love the competition, or whatever.
What I like is going into a world, finding a story, and experiencing it. I like all sorts of other things too, but at a sort of gentle, basic level, I think the thing that draws me to games the most has always been — and will always be — the ability to get lost in another world for a while. I find that competitive games and MMOs don’t allow this. Final Fantasy XIV and Guild Wars 2, with all their region chatting and hotbar gameplay, keep me at arms length in a way that other games don’t really do. The same is true for, like, competitive shooters or fighting games.
They don’t do much for me emotionally; if they do for you, that’s awesome! We’re different people, of course we engage with things in different ways. A key skill of a great critic is being able to recognize that not everyone operates the same, and I try to keep this in mind when I work.
If you think my work has value and you want to help me out financially, that would be great because being disabled in America is expensive. I’m putting all this out there for free because hey, I used to be in poverty and couldn’t get by without government assistance; I know what it’s like not to have resources available to you that other people have in spades. I don’t believe people should be denied access to educational materials like these just because they’re poor. My hope is that those of you who are able to support are willing to help not just me, but the people who can’t afford a lot of access to other game design materials. If you’re able to help and you think this goal of providing access to people who need it is good, here’s how you can help me keep writing:
Other ways to help include sharing my game Adios with people, leaving reviews if you liked it, and telling people about my articles. Also, if you’re a publisher, I literally have the best narrative team in the entire world (consisting of television and movie writers who have written some absolutely stellar stuff), and we are about to begin pitching a strategy RPG that is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. If that seems up your alley, slide into my twitter DMs.
If you’d like to read my other roundups, here you go:
As always, these are in the order I completed them. They are not ranked.
- Attack of the Friday Monsters (3DS)
I don’t recall why I decided to play Attack of the Friday monsters, other than a significant desire to find some kind of idyllic, small town game about being a kid, when the world seemed grand and full of promise. Attack of the Friday Monsters offers so much of that.
It’s also gorgeous, even though it’s only on a 240 pixel screen, because it has pre-rendered backgrounds. The whole town is so affectionately rendered that it’s easy to get the sense the artists were harkening back to their own childhoods.
The story seems simple at first; you’re a kid, and there were kaiju… but obviously the kaiju are just children making pretend about the nearby movie studio right?
ULTRAMAN IS REAL. HE IS STRONG. AND HE IS MY FRIEND.
2. Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars (PC)
A lot of people liked Hideo Kojima for the gimmicks in his games. When he wrote a game with actual substance, Metal Gear Solid V, a bunch of people got mad there weren’t any real gimmicks in it (also complained it didn’t have enough cutscenes, even though it’s a massive open world game, so of course there are going to be a different cutscenes-to-gameplay ratio).
Yoko Taro is the same way. Lots of people love him, and they’ll point to the gimmicks as to why. But when he goes off and writes an excellent little tragedy — and he is a writer of excellent tragedies — people don’t pay as much mind.
Voice of Cards is the most card-game-ass-game-that-isn’t-really-a-card-game-exactly I’ve ever played.
Sure, you have cards. The world is cards. The fights you play are card games… right?
It’s actually a traditional JRPG pretending to be a card game!
Why? What makes a card game? That’s simple: A card game is a game in which a player draws a hand of cards from a shuffled deck and then uses the cards in their hand to as a primary method of play.
In Voice of Cards, you have spells that your characters equip. Yes, they flip and shuffle, but each card represents a character, each character takes their turn attacking the enemy units (which are also cards). You do not draw cards from a shuffled deck and you do not play your hand randomly.
It is all aesthetic.
But it’s very cool and very cute and the story is genuinely as funny, as surprising, and as obviously a product of Yoko Taro’s masterfully tragic writing as you’d expect. I liked it a great deal. What a wonderful experience.
3. Tropico 6 (PC)
I loved Tropico 3. I loved Tropico 4 even more. I did not love Tropico 5 quite so much — I thought having to jump between multiple islands wasn’t very fun.
Tropico 6? Not that great. It had big issues with economic pacing that lead to the game not feeling that great to play; it was easy to get into an economic trap I couldn’t get out of. The game just needed more polish. Or maybe I’m just burned out on Tropico.
Either way, not a game I’d recommend.
4. Jurassic World Evolution 2 (PC)
Early on, I heard a great deal of complaints that the game was too short, and sure, if you missed the entire second campaign, it was pretty short. But, again, there is a second campaign, where each mission is based on the various Jurassic Park movies, so there’s like, I dunno, five or six of them?
I’m not sure I loved Jurassic World Evolution 2 though, despite the size.
The last game’s Great Big Problem was that all the islands had the same basic, fundamental objectives. You want to do X number of tasks for Y factions, and each faction had, as I recall, the same basic types of objectives, which you followed in the same basic order. In other words: it became predictable very fast, with the only interesting wrinkles happening when a dinosaur got out, which is more frustrating than a fun wrinkle, y’know?
The sequel has a bit more variety — maps are different and have a lot more objective variety — and I thought there was something poignant in the final mission being about tearing down the biggest park of all — but I couldn’t help but feel like the game still needs something more to grab onto in order to really work. It’s not a bad game, but it’s a game I did find myself getting tired of rather quickly.
A good city builder is a bit like a garden; you find some level of zen in playing the game. I think that, the past few years, more city builders have begun placing more pressure on characters, and then they fall into one of the Great Big City Builder Problems.
Those problems are usually as follows:
- It’s very easy to make a decision that hurts you so many hours down the line that you could’ve finished two or three entire other games before you realize it. I’m playing Ixion right now and I’m running into a problem because there’s too much of a resource in a location and so I can’t tear down a building to create more space to build a different building to keep my economy going. The entire thing has ground to a halt. It’s endemic to any sort of economical engine game; the entire genre is about setting up a machine. If you have an issue with a lower layer of your economy, then as you advance, you’ll eventually find it disrupts your entire economy. This wasn’t that bad in JWE2, thankfully, but I ran into it a few time.
- It’s possible to hit a state of super-stability where you really can’t fail, and you’re just waiting around, not interacting with the game, as your income skyrockets. This is the original Great Big City Builder Problem I first identified some time ago. I’m sure other people have too, it’s just, that’s what I’ve always called it, lol. If it has another name, let me know. When you see me mention it, though, that’s what I mean. I can’t say I experienced much of that in Jurassic World Evolution 2, thankfully!
- Then there’s Jurassic World Evolution 2’s problem: It’s easy to get into a habit and find the game doesn’t really change after that. The game is no longer dynamic and the choices are no longer interesting. In the case of Jurassic World Evolution 2, once you kinda understand how things are gonna work, the game just becomes kind of rote. Put the buildings in the best places to maximize the economy and go from there. Other than some dinosaur breakouts (which feel disastrous to me, since people, y’know, die, and we’re running an animal care facility slash theme park, so I really don’t like them, in the same way that getting caught in a stealth game FEELS like failure, even when it isn’t).
It’s not so much that Jurassic World Evolution 2 was bad — I think I liked the overall persistence of Evolution’s progression to Evolution 2’s, because I ended up doing a lot of the same basic tasks over and over again. I wasn’t thinking ‘about’ the space and making it run well as much as, I dunno, I was mostly just waiting to get bothered by the dinosaurs breaking out of their cages.
5. Metroid Prime (Wii) (Gamecube Version with a Gamecube Controller)
I wrote about Metroid Prime here. The basic gist is: I’d love to make a game like this, but I think the controls hamper the experience a lot. Notably, for me, holding the triggers on the Gamecube caused a lot of physical pain thanks to, y’know, my particular chronic pain issues.
6. Pokemon Diamond (Remake) (Switch)
I don’t remember shit about this game, which should tell you a lot. I definitely beat it. I’ve found logs of me saying I beat it… but damned if I can’t remember anything about it at all. I think of all the mainline Pokemon games I’ve played, Diamond is probably the worst one. I literally remember more about Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness or whatever it was called. I remember more about Pokemon Shuffle.
I didn’t hate it, I just can’t remember a damn thing about it beyond the lingering disappointment.
7. 13 Sentinels (PS5)
I don’t really ever say “I have a game of the year,” but got damn I have a game of the year. 13 Sentinels might have come out in 2019, but remember, this list is about what I finished, not when it came out.
So… 13 Sentinels… hmm, where to begin. Generally, I’ll write as much as I feel like on the games in these lists, and I’ll try to get at the root of why I like the game, but there are so many reasons to like 13 Sentinels!
At a top level, it’s an intriguing premise, rich with excellent character writing; they could probably have made a good game on plot alone — the pace of wild twists comes about once every twenty minutes, and I’m not exaggerating — and they’re ceaselessly entertaining. But they throw compelling characters on top of that, and the character writing really manages to draw us in. It’s always a good time. I can’t remember a single doldrum (a couple puzzles were a challenge — I didn’t quite know what the game wanted me to do — but I really do mean ‘a couple’, like literally two).
This isn’t really a genre I love — I struggle to enjoy 2D games or pay attention — but the excellent writing and the way you engage with the space and the characters was so cool. Combining ideas to understand things, figuring out how to engage with the environment to get certain responses, discovering a talking cat… it’s all so fuckin inspiring.
And then — then!!! — they slapped in a brilliant little strategy game, and then they tied all the progression in the game to all the other systems and characters, so before any mechanic or character can outstay their welcome, boom! You get to do something else. Pacing-wise, this is one of the best video games ever made.
Buy it now.
8. I don’t think I’ve walked this stretch of road before (PC)
A very cool little PS1-style horror game! Check it out.
9. Elden Ring (PC)
When I wrote about Dark Souls and disability, I got a lot of shit from people who said “because your body doesn’t work, you don’t get to be happy. you should be left out.” As Kate Bush said, If I could make a deal with God, I’d get him to swap our places, maybe then they’d change their tune.
It is difficult to play Souls games without some way to reduce the physical strain on my body. Elden Ring solves this problem with A) the most reliable co-op implementation in the series yet, and B) level design that makes it much easier to spend time relaxing.
If Souls games prior to Elden Ring are largely about entering a space and then figuring out the fight, Elden Ring is often about observing a location and deciding whether or not you want to participate in it. While every Souls game has supported plenty of builds and styles, the level design in Elden Ring gives you so much more capability in interacting with the space.
The series has also always been about a kind of desire — you see a place, and your brain starts working out how to get there. But here, now, with maps that are much, much more open, the desire, the goal-setting, is a great deal more compelling.
Elden Ring is a world worth exploring, and as a player who greatly prefers exploration to the Souls’ series combat, this is easily the game world I enjoyed hanging out in the most.
This is a world that’s thrilling, enticing, mystifying, and so so so satisfying when you can figure out how things fit together.
(Fuck that one chariot I had to drop onto, though!)
10. Ghostwire Tokyo (PC)
What a cool, unique, extremely weird game.
Ostensibly, Ghostwire Tokyo is an open world sandbox game, doing open world sandbox game things. It’s a first person shooter, so you might be inclined to say “ah, so it’s like Far Cry 6 or something?”
Uh… not… not really. You’re in a Tokyo where there almost no people, mostly just ghosts, yokai, and talking cats. Merge the modernity of Tokyo with the mythology of Japanese culture, toss in a little bit of the aesthetics of early-aughts J-horror films like Ringu, Ju-On, or Dark Water, and you end up with a game that’s fascinating.
A lot of the yokai you encounter are friendly. Others are spooky. There’s a parade of ghosts that walks around the city that is just eerie as shit. It’s an open world that feels a bit richer, more innovative, more interesting than your typical open world first person game, like Far Cry, but it also feels like it’s doing a lot more with a lot less in a way I find difficult to articulate.
This rendition of Tokyo, despite being abandoned, feels more lifelike and lived-in than any version of any other major city I’ve ever played in a game.
The combat takes a while to feel good — the leveling system tends to put combat where it ought to be all along, rather than making you feel particularly adept — but when it does, it really does. Apparently they patched the annoying flying yokai cries to be much less annoying as well, which is great.
Really fun time, super unique.
11. Tiny Metal (PC)
I liked the game and its aesthetics; apparently, it was originally much shorter, and they updated it with some additional missions, which… personally, I think overshot the mark a bit. Tiny Metal needed about 5 fewer missions to be just right, but I had a real good time.
I like the Intelligent Systems style of strategy game design, but Tiny Metal’s mechanics aren’t quite rich enough to sustain its overall length. A fun time, at least for a while, I’d recommend it if you’re ever in the mood for a tactics game.
I think one of my big complaints about this game is a complaint I have with a lot of tactics games: taking turns to move from point A to B when you’re not in combat feels kinda boring. I’m just… moving. That’s all I’m doing. It’s not very fun. At the same time… it’s good to have some amount of time between combat encounters. Mutant Year Zero lets you walk around in real time when not in combat; I’d love to see more games doing something like that.
12. Aperture Desk Job (PC (Steam Deck))
This was a cute little tech demo for the Steam Deck; it shows off various features, functioning a bit like a tutorial for how to use it. It’s got fun Portal-esque humor. I wish Valve would take that stuff and actually make some real single-player games instead of just little tech demos, like this one and the VR one I forget the name of.
13. XCOM: Chimera Squad (PC)
In my opinion, this is the worst XCOM game. It accelerates further towards being a board game, rather than away from it, a problem that began in XCOM 2. The game still feels like it cheats a bit, and it feels like it wants so much to make you play a specific kind of way that it’s willing to ruin your fun to get there.
While I do enjoy the occasional initiative-based combat system (where units take turns based on a stat like “initiative” or “speed”) because I like systems that let you think about and control turn economy, XCOM has always been at its best when the turns are team-based (that is, you alternate turns with your opponent, doing whatever you want with your entire team first).
Plus… I did not like the writing in it at all. It’s trying too hard to be cute.
14. Call of Duty: Vanguard (XSX)
I don’t… really remember a lot of Vanguard. It was kind of fun in the way that Call of Duty campaigns (that aren’t made by Treyarch) always are, thanks to a ton of really cool encounters, even though the story and characters were pretty fuckin dire. I mean really fucking dire. As bad as any Black Ops? Not quite. But man, way closer to that than Infinite Warfare.
It’s Call of Duty. If you’ve played, like, any of them, you probably have a good sense of what this will be like. I got it with some free Xbox reward points, and I’d say those were free Xbox reward points well spent.
Call of Duty is like the diet coke of the video game world. You know what you’re getting, but it probably isn’t your favorite and won’t blow you away the way that Titanfall 2 (the Baja Blast Zero of first person shooters, aka the best one) will.
15. Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines (PC)
They say that every time you mention Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines, someone is compelled to reinstall it. With the fan patch, so the game would run on modern systems, I found… one of the best games I have ever played. If 13 Sentinels wasn’t the game of the year, Vampire: The Masquerade would have been.
To me, the best games put you in a world that is compelling and feels like it’s alive, regardless of you.
I’m not big into vampires as a fictional concept; they’re not a selling point to me, but they’re not a detriment either. I generally don’t like the fantasy of preying on innocent people as much as I like going up against things that are bigger and stronger. I’d definitely be a lot more happy with Hunter: The Reckoning styled like Vampire: The Masquerade than playing as a Vampire, but still, what a helluva a game. Impeccable vibes, fantastic soundtrack, a rich and fascinating world.
But there’s something… more.
For the longest time, I’ve had this dream for a game with distinct, discrete locations. You can see it in my essay about horror games, which discusses the fictional game “null world.” It’s inspired heavily by STALKER and Deus Ex’s distinct locations. Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines is another game that does this very thing; it’s so good. I love games with a series of mini sandboxes you can freely jump between. I dunno why, I just do.
I got the ending with the dynamite. My Malkavian had a great time, and so did I.
16. Sneak King (360)
A cute little tie-in game you could get for free back in the early days of the Xbox 360 (as well as Big Bumpin and PocketBike Racer), Sneak King is basically “how far can we stretch the least amount of resources possible?” They achieve this by having like… I think four or five world maps, which have tons of different kinds of missions on them. Once you do a certain number of missions, you can move on.
It’s silly! It uses The King mascot from Burger King! It was a fun little game; I streamed it to what was basically completion (there were a few extra missions I could’ve played to get 100% completion, but I almost never 100% games).
17. Crossfire X (XSX)
This is Remedy’s worst game.
I have played all but two Remedy games (Death Rally and Agents of Storm; neither of which are your typical “Remedy” games, and Agents of Storm is on iOS so I’ve never had a chance), and I feel pretty confident in that.
It’s not that this is Remedy’s first First Person Shooter — the combat is kinda cool, the game is often great looking, but… you just get the sense there wasn’t much of a budget here, and that means Remedy likely did not get the time required to make that campaign really pop.
18. Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition (XSX)
As open world games go, I think Wei “motherfuckin’” Shen might be one of the best characters in video games. He’s a cop, sure, and all cops are bastards, but what a bastard he is. Hong Kong feels rich and full of life — though the quests don’t start sending you to other areas of Hong Kong until later in the game.
Still… what a game. Combat’s fun, driving’s fun, Hong Kong’s fun, the quests are fun, the story is a banger… man. I want to say a lot about the game, but the problem is… there’s a lot of games I like, a lot of games I might get little bits and pieces from, but not enough to write a big-ass article or anything about. Sleeping Dogs is one of those games. Love, love, love it, not much to write about though.
That doesn’t mean it’ll always be the case, just that it is for the time being.
19. Scarlet Nexus (XSX)
Fun combat, fun characters, boring story. I hear that the story works a bit better if you play the male protagonist first — and I think that’s true, but I think that’s a silly way to construct your game; I wasn’t gonna go through a second half that’s largely identical barring a few narrative changes. If there were more regions, cutscenes, a different pace? Sure, I might love it. But… I didn’t. Combat was fun though.
20. Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne (PC)
Okay, so, hey, maaaaybe when I said 13 Sentinels was my game of the year, I slightly misrepresented that situation, because you see… it’s tied with another game, and that game is Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, which might just be the best JRPG ever made.
If you’re not familiar with the Megami Tensei series, there are… a lot of subseries, and we’ll be dealing with two this year, the first being Shin Megami Tensei, which is considered the ‘proper’ series. Nocturne was the game that set the stage for every game and spinoff that came after it.
I’ve played a lot of turn-based systems, but I love Nocturne (and many of the later SMT games and side-series) the best, because it uses the “press turn” system, where you can change the amount of turns you have as you press certain advantages or disadvantages. If an enemy is weak to fire and you hit it with a fire attack, you gain another turn. If they’re strong to fire, you might lose two. It’s not just “more damage,” like you get from elemental weaknesses in something like Pokemon, it’s about controlling the battle itself. This brings in a level of strategy that really, really helps my ADHD-addled brain focus on the combat at hand. I’d say that Nocturne — and the games that followed it — are pretty much always a good time thanks to this system.
But it’s not just the Press Turn system that makes Nocturne a masterpiece; of course it isn’t. Nocturne’s got some rough edges since it marks a watershed moment between old-school, hardcore, dungeon crawling RPGs and something newer and more sublime, but the masterful vibes, the fascinating locales and interesting dungeons, the often apocalyptic and but frequently hilarious narrative… god, it all blends just so. There’s a vibe to the game that is absolutely unmatched.
If I hadn’t played 13 Sentinels this year, Nocturne would have no clear contenders for game of the year, save one other game… but we’ll get to that in a bit.
21. Serious Sam: Siberian Madness (PC)
Siberian Madness was, as I understand it, a Russian Mod team’s attempt at making a Serious Sam game that somehow became an official entry in the series, and I can see why; the quality is on par with previous Serious Sam games, and it’s using the Serious Sam 4 tech, which felt pretty good already.
I don’t have a lot to say about the game; it’s fun! While some areas in the game occasionally left me scratching my head, a lot of them were inventive and fun, using Serious Sam’s mechanics in ways I wasn’t always expecting.
If you like Serious Sam, you’ll like this. If you don’t like Serious Sam, you won’t. Not a lot to say about it; as a fan, I was pleasantly surprised.
22. Judgment (XSX)
Judgment is a side series set in the Yakuza/Like a Dragon world. No, really — the first game takes place entirely in Kamurocho, the home location for most of the Yakuza games, but instead of playing as frequently-not-a-yakuza-but-also-always-a-yakuza protagonist Kazuma Kiryu, or Yakuza: Like a Dragon’s a-yakuza-without-a-clan protagonist Ichiban Kasuga, you play as someone on the other side of the law… kinda.
I think Takayuki Yagami might be the series’ most boring protagonist as a person, though he’s got an interesting background; Yagami just kind of… plays it flat. Kiryu feels like Fist of the North Star’s Kenshiro or Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures’ Jotaro. Ichiban Kasuga is… well, I can tell you that I love him. I adore him. He’s such a funny, sweet, passionate video game protagonist; while a lot of JRPG (and Like A Dragon is explicitly a JRPG as opposed to an open world brawler like Judgment and the earlier Yakuza games) protagonists are supposed to be heroes, they’re kind of blank slates, and Ichiban isn’t. He’s rich with life, he’s an idealist, he’s weird and funny and loyal and pretty much steals any scene he’s in, except that his “party” is just as interesting as he is.
Yagami, in contrast, is… like, there isn’t a lot to him performance-wise. Even his reactions to things are like, a kinda normal guy knows a bit of martial arts and reacts to them.
A former lawyer, Yagami resigned in disgrace when a man that Yagami defended successfully murdered his (not Yagami’s) girlfriend. Now working as a detective with his best buddy, the ex-Yakuza bruiser Kaito, Yagami mostly does odd jobs around Kamurocho, in the form of some of the best sidequests in RGG studio’s oeuvre.
Even though Yagami’s actual portrayal (and I don’t want to place this on the voice actors — this is how he’s directed in cutscenes and written; they’re doing the best they can with the material, which is great, just flatter than I’d like) is a bit bland, the sidequests are amazing.
Remember how I wrote an entire article on player motivation and how to make a game interesting? In it, I used Yakuza: Like a Dragon (I prefer calling it Yakuza 7, but Sega took it as an opportunity to rebrand and all the Yakuza games are finally being named “Like a Dragon” like they are in Japan, apparently, which is cool) and its sidequests to explain how you can do a whole lot more with sidequests than the usual “go get 3 jujubes.”
Well, Judgment is no exception to this rule. The main plot is fascinating — and I mean really, genuinely, truly a good mystery to follow — but the side quests are absolute top tier stuff. Just some absolutely amazing missions in there. If you want to learn how to design quests, please look at Judgment.
It’s a great time all the way through; as dense and impressive as any Yakuza game.
But… my favorite part is the relationship system, I think. In it, you meet people, performing various tasks for them, eventually unlocking entire stories as part of the relationship system. It pushes you to experiment with all the mechanics in the game, and it’s something I’d been planning to do in my next game, codenamed Waifu Death Squad, since before I was familiar with Judgment. I love it!! Turns out it works out real fuckin’ good!! It’s a great way to get you to get familiar with everything has to offer. Too bad it’s not in Lost Judgment. :(
Absolutely an excellent game. Judgment is really high up there on my possible Game of the Year contenders.
23. Shadow Warrior 3 (PC)
Shadow Warrior 3 is gorgeous.
Coming from me, you know that’s a bad sign; I’d read years ago a study that showed how most reviewers cite graphics first and foremost. If you have great graphics, you’re likely to get a great review, even if the rest of the game is crap.
Well, Shadow Warrior 3 isn’t crap. It’s actually super fun, and mechanically the best game in the series. I think the beautiful, devastating tragic narrative of Flying Wild Hog’s first Shadow Warrior (one of the most effective uses of tragedy) makes it the best in the series, and the second one is… well, the less said about that one, the better (I did like that it had co-op, but the randomized level design made it so much less of a game). Shadow Warrior 3 is an excellent shooter mechanically; it’s no Doom 2016, Halo 3, or Destiny as shooters, go, but it’s several steps above Doom Eternal (though with less budget).
Believe it or not, my biggest problem with the game is spatial pacing.
We often think about pacing in terms of narrative or encounter design (which overlap, but you could think about the increasing complexty of puzzles in a puzzle game with no narrative as ‘encounter design pacing’), because pacing the journey through a game is the most important kind of pacing there is, but there are other kinds of pacing to consider as well.
For instance, you might have pacing in a progression system — the time it takes between leveling up or whatever — and I recall Todd Howard mentioning the secret to Fallout/The Elder Scrolls’ success when he said something about they felt that they had pretty good pacing for rewards in their games (and he’s right; a big part of why they succeed is that the worlds are spaced so well that you have a pretty good rhythm of getting XP and rewards — you never go too long without something making the lizard brain go ZING!).
But there’s something I noticed a long time ago that I’ve only just come up with a term now for, and that’s “spatial pacing.”
A long time ago, I noticed it seemed like every game came with the lava level, the desert level, the ice level, and so on, right? I mean, look at Metroid Prime! It’s got all that stuff, right?
What this does is create a sense of flow where you’re never in any one place for too long. Nothing outstays its welcome. Of course, the problem with this kind of spatial pacing is that it costs money to make — you make five environments, you pay less than if you make ten environments, right?
So, the more locations, the less mental fatigue on the player (from an unvaried game — one that is not enriching), but the higher the budget.
I suspect that the budget for Shadow Warrior 3 went into making a few gorgeous and impressive locations, rather than a lot of different locations.
Highly recommended game if you want a shooter with great combat that looks extremely pretty! Just… don’t expect a lot of different biomes, okay?
24. Megaquarium (PC)
Megaquarium is a basic park builder, which is what happens when you take a city builder and focus on an individual structures within a location. As an aquarium, obviously it’s all the structures within an individual building. I found Megaquarium fun and charming, but eventually I found myself struggling and having to figure out how to really push those numbers. I think a lot of these sorts of games either need to make it clearer how to smooth out some of the parts where the game’s numbers stall or do something else to let players know where they could bump their numbers up.
Still, it was nice and relaxing.
25. Final Fantasy VI (PC)
I see why people call it one of the best stories in games; that was a helluva thing, a deftly-told story that juggles its cast impressively. It’s a wildly original fantasy world that still manages to feel constantly invigorating
It loses steam by the end, and I think that’s down to the gameplay. With Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, and Final Fantasy IX — which I played, but didn’t finish last year due to save file loss — I’ve kinda come to the conclusion that I don’t really like the combat part of these games in the slightest.
“These games, Doc? Do you mean — ” No. I don’t mean JRPGs. I mean Square Enix-style JRPGs from the 90s and early aughts. It’s not the narratives or the worlds that I find troublesome; the most recent game I played was Final Fantasy: Crisis Core. I like the games. But… the turn-based combat in these old 2D adventures? Yeah, they’re a bit rough.
You just hit a point where you’ve really seen all there is to see and you start wondering, like… what am I doing? And why?
With something like the Press Turn system in Atlus games, at least there’s an element of strategy and controlling the turn economy at play, but with games like this… there isn’t anything.
Years ago, some fucking nerd online said that “JRPGs” were “true RPGs” and a lot of RPGs — which he mistakenly called “WRPGs” (a term created by JRPG fans who were mad at the idea that JRPGs weren’t real RPGs at all but instead party-based adventure games, attempting to bring the RPG “down” to their level. We could get into a whole thing about how early-aughts and 90s JRPG fans have this whole thing about thinking JRPGs, because of their exciting stories and worlds, are the best kind of game, so simply slapping the genre label of “RPG” on something makes it, by virtue of the labeling, good, but that’s nonsense, so let’s not) — because, he claimed, “an RPG is any game with 1) leveling, 2) a party, and 3) a story, and 4) a bestiary.”
This is obvious nonsense. An RPG is a “role playing game.” Roleplay is a specific term relating to acting — the idea of breathing life into a character. When you’re acting a role, you are not roleplaying; if you play Romeo in Shakespeare’s famous play, you are not roleplaying. If you play “Romeo from Shakespeare’s famous ‘Romeo and Juliet’” but then someone gives you “but you’re suddenly transported through time to the 1920s American Southwest,” and now you have to make up some of what you’re doing, that’s roleplay.
A true RPG is more like that — you define your relationship to the world through your decisions.
Most JRPGs are adventure games, in the loose sense — not point and click, but literal adventure stories with some combat mechanics (and if you’re lucky, other mechanics as well) — and all the wargaming mechanics, like the combat systems — aren’t really impacting the actual roleplay part of the “role-playing game” genre.
And honestly? These games are fucking amazing! I love the depth of the characters, the inventiveness of the settings, the epic journeys and fun times. I love how one moment, I might be trying to remember my lines for an opera, and another, I’m grabbing fish to breathe life back into an old man. They’re fantastic adventures!
I just think the combat wears out its welcome after a while, regardless of the battle system.
26. Lost Judgment (Xbox Series X)
I suspect that Lost Judgment is a victim of COVID; where Judgment felt like it was bursting at the seams with people to meet and places to go and adventures to have, Lost Judgment, which adds a second map to the mix, falls a little flat.
Despite my attempts at doing everything in the game, I found that without the School Stories DLC, the game felt weirdly small. Gone is the awesome relationship system, replaced by far fewer sidequests — which also felt less impactful — than the last game. The quests that felt the most like proper Judgment sidequests were, well, the aforementioned School Stories, but I was most of the way through the game before I figured out how to progress them (I had assumed they would open up as I advanced the plot, not realizing every single one was tied to me doing just a bit more of the side content in one of the clubs before the others would unlock).
When I say “I was most of the way through the game,” I mean I literally found myself going “huh, more main plot, no new side quests are popping up. This is weird.” Then I looked up where I was and found out I was on chapter 9 or 10 of 13. Seriously, I was almost done with the game!
Like I said, most of the side content was stuck in the School Stories.
The game was physically larger than Lost Judgment, but felt like it had much less content overall. I liked a lot of what I played — systems feel more fleshed out, the quality of life is better overall — but I dunno, something about it left me feeling like it wasn’t quite as polished or fleshed out as the other RGG studio games I’ve completed.
Of course, an 8/10 RGG studio game is better than most studio’s best games, so of course I loved it; the main plot was riveting, which was part of the reason I made it to chapter 9 without realizing anything was wrong. The game just went down real smooth.
27. Voice of Cards: The Forsaken Maiden (PC)
I really loved Voice of Cards, so I thought Voice of Cards 2 would be just as good.
It… was almost as good, aside from one really frustrating area (the island to the north). The problem, for me, was the structure. With Voice of Cards, I had no idea what was coming next — the story felt organic and interesting. With The Forsaken Maiden, you’re tasked with going to four different islands, meeting their maidens, doing their adventure, and then bringing an item back to your home island. It was, to put it simply, so formulaic in its structure that the narrative couldn’t be quite as surprising. Otherwise, it was completely identical to Voice of Cards. If you loved the first, you’ll like the second.
28. Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers (3DS)
I think this is the first dungeon crawler I’ve ever completed. A remake of the original Saturn game for 3DS, Soul Hackers has that older 90s-style anime art that I really enjoyed, combined with a cool first-person vibe and pre-Y2K internet online horror sensibility (like Serial Experiments Lain or Kairo/Pulse), and the world seems interesting as fuck.
A virtual reality — think ‘the metaverse’ back when it was cool, before Mark Zuckerberg, the second most uncool man alive, got his hands all over it — has recently gone online, and it’s stealing people’s souls. It’s up to you and your friend, who has recently been possessed by a ghost from the machine named Nemissa, who has way better fashion sense, to save the world.
To do this, you need to go around defeating hackers and demons, and sometimes, hackers who control demons, and other times, demons who possess hackers. You do this in first person, but — even though this remake released after the introduction of Press Turn, it’s very much in line with the original game — there are none of the demon negotiation or combat systems you’re familiar with from older games. It’s much more like a traditional dungeon crawler, with party positioning (two rows of three, one front, one back) and the like.
Like Final Fantasy VI and the other JRPGs, the combat system wears out its welcome; it just isn’t dynamic enough to be exciting the way SMT or Persona is.
29. Xenoblade Chronicles X (WiiU)
Speaking of cool plots with a bad combat system, Xenoblade Chronicles X is a story about how Los Angeles turned into a space ship, flew across the universe, and crash landed into an alien planet… that’s occupied by the same guys who destroyed the rest of the Earth. They want to kill humans for some reason, which isn’t great for us.
What follows is… a pretty interesting story, a massive, gorgeous world — the kind that feels as alien and spectacular as any other world that Monolithsoft has made. In fact, I think I’d have to say that of all their games, this is my current favorite by far.
Unfortunately, as with every other Xenoblade, the QOL fixes aren’t quite up to the original Xenoblade remake for Switch, and you’ve got to do a ton of fetch quests (“go get me x objects, then return them. congrats here’s some XP!”) to get there. When there’s story, it’s good! When there’s fetch quests… it’s… whatever, man. I can’t say I loved that part. I know players were supposed to use the online mode, but that’s been offline for years. The game isn’t quite tuned to be played purely in single-player, not without a ton of grinding.
I liked it. Would I play it again? Maaaaaybe… maybe. But not for several years.
30. Nier Replicant (PC)
The first time I heard about this, there was an internet furor because some guy refused to review it because he couldn’t figure out how fishing works.
The second time I heard about it, I’d stumbled across a gif of one of the fights in the game, and I thought “hey, that’s neat” so I got it for my Xbox 360, started to play it, enjoyed it, and went “I’ll get back to this soon!” Then life happened and I finally decided to get around to it…
When the third time happened, and they announced it was getting a remake, so I figured “hey, I’ll play the remake instead,” and I waited for its release.
What a great game. I got every single ending, and yeah, man, oh man, did I tear up at it. I think I might actually like it better than Automata, but I’ll be writing more about both games in an upcoming article (I am writing it as I write this sentence, actually).
31. Anarchy Reigns (360)
A mid-tier Platinum game where you go around punching guys, filling up bars, and unlocking new campaigns where you go do that elsewhere. I think it’s related to Mad World. It was alright for the $5 I got it for at Gamestop.
32. Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel (360)
Holy shit, what a game.
The 360 generation was a bit odd; a lot of would-be intellectuals in the gaming criticism sphere started poo-pooing any game that seemed like it didn’t fit in with existing nerd tastes or looked like movies and tv that might win awards. It was basically “I want to keep doing what I’m doing, but I want to be praised for consuming the most heavily marketed products in the world. I want to be called discerning for buying the first game I see in a Gamestop. I want my parents to respect me for consuming entertainment products. Call me sophisticated!”
This meant that products that weren’t playing up to that crowd — the Last of Uses and the Grand Theft Autos — were ignored, or even derided. Take Gears of War, a series that had its ‘bro’ moments (when a fight finished, you might hear a character yell ‘back in your hole!’ or ‘nice!’), but was an immacuately-constructed third-person shooter with strong anti-war themes.
People found the chunky, meatheaded character designs to be excessively macho, so they’d cover their ears and pretend that the meathead games for meatheads were simply bad, stupid games for big dumb apes at frat houses. Then they’d go back to movies that badly aped Oscar bait and praise that vapidity, ignoring the gameplay and the narrative for “well this feels like a movie so it is just as good.”
Too bad, because The Devil’s Cartel is fucking good. It’s a superlative co-op shooter; a dicey proposition at $60 considering the roughly 8 hour length — but it’s wrapped in the hilarious trappings of the ultra-stylized “T.W.O.” corporation.
I worked on a game once where I told the devs “if you want people to believe in your world, you don’t want to make it a theme park.” Army of Two is all about theme parks, and it’s as exciting as, well, a great roller coaster. It’s a delightful, silly, ridiculous, grandiose time. Too bad we couldn’t stay connected on the final mission, but it was majestic otherwise.
Wish these games were on PC.
33. Shin Megami Tensei V (Switch)
I loved Nocturne so much, and I’d started Shin Megami Tensei V in 2021, so I felt like “you know what? I should finish this.” Something like 80 hours later, I’d finished one of the best games I’ve ever played. I love Da’at — Taito, one of my favorite tracks in the entire series. The quests are cool, the world design and enemy approach is even better than Nocturne, though the vibes aren’t quite there. A magical experience, if I were to give Nocturne a 90% passing grade… I’d give Shin Megami Tensei V an equal 90%, which means… we have a three way tie for game of the year!
V is better than Nocturne at quality of life, Nocturne has the edge on vibes.
I just wish it was on PC, where it’d likely run better — and it ought to, since your characters long, flowing mane deserves to flow in a perfect 6o frames per second, if not more.
34. Two Point Campus (PC)
I don’t remember much about this game, but I had a good time with it. If you liked Two Point Hospital, you’ll like this; I think I liked it more than Megaquarium, but it clearly had a much bigger budget. Like a lot of city builders, after a while, with too little to spice things up, it starts to fall apart, but it’s good while it lasts.
35. Chasing Static (PC)
I think Chasing Static is one of the best of the PS1-style horror games, and certainly the best-looking by far. I’d definitely love to see the mechanics at place taken a bit further — someone should give Nath a few mil to make something wild. Or we should collaborate. ;)
36. Betrayal at Club Low (PC)
A long time ago, I saw a Cosmo D game, and I thought “man, that seems weird.”
Then I played it, and I went “oh man, that’s one of my favorite video games ever. It’s also very weird.” Then I immediately went and played another Cosmo D game right after.
Now, I will buy any Cosmo D game, period, sight unseen, questions unasked, because Cosmo D means… hmm. Inventiveness? Fascination? When I play a Cosmo D game, I become a kitten seeking a laser, a seemingly endless ball of energy entranced by whatever the fuck I’m looking at.
I love this shit, is what I’m saying. Betrayal at Club Low, like Cosmo D’s other games, is unlike anything that came before it, yet familiar because it’s got those fingerprints all over the damn place. I cannot even begin to put into words what it means to play a Cosmo D game, except that it makes me happy to do so.
Buy it now.
37. Modern Warfare 3 (XSX)
You ever just sit down to eat some comfort food? Well, Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty campaigns are my comfort food; they go down nice and quick, they’re fun, they got some cool set pieces, and they’re so well constructed compared to, like, anybody else in the industry. They seem so focus tested that they lack personality, but that’s okay. They’re fun. Modern Warfare 3 is one of the best.
38. Chrono Trigger (PC)
There’s nothing I can say here that I didn’t say for Final Fantasy VI, honestly. Great story, cool characters, boring-as-fuck combat. An excellent adventure that would benefit from just, I don’t know, having a better combat system that could withstand the length of the actual game better than the current one.
39. Bloons TD6 (PC)
It’s a fun little tower defense game. I don’t really know why I stuck with it, because it wasn’t a game I loved enough to make a high priority, but I did, and it was, well, fun. So that’s cool. Sometimes, a man just needs a tower defense game!
40. Dungeon Village 2 (Android)
Why I like Kairosoft games, I don’t know. I suspect there’s some kind of lizard brain part of the human mind that just likes to see numbers going up, up, up! Personally, I love having a list of things to check off and then dutifully doing those tasks one by one, watching bars fill up, and the like. To that end, I’d say Dungeon Village 2 is the best Kairosoft game I’ve ever played.
41. Alien Shooter TD (PC)
I hit a point where I wasn’t having fun so I put on some cheats just to finish it and get it off my backlog.
42. Oh! Edo Towns (PC)
More Kairosoft, more fun! This one’s a bit different than Dungeon Village — you’re making an economic engine here, rather than trying to simply grow a town by completing requirements. I didn’t like it as much as Dungeon Village 2.
43. Mundaun (PC)
Mundaun is a very special kind of horror game. There is nothing like it out there, though one could call it a first person adventure game, given some of the light puzzle solving. I’m deeply fond of it; everyone should buy a copy, Michel deserves to make all the games in the world.
44. Dungeon Village (PC)
It’s like Dungeon Village 2, but with fewer features and maps. I was so happy when Kairosoft games started coming to PC; they’re way more playable here than on my phone!
45. Pokemon Legends Arceus (Switch)
I think I may have a new favorite Pokemon game. Was I expecting it to be a spinoff? No! Most spinoffs are like, small minigame compilations and stuff, or simplified Pokemon games like Let’s Go Eevee and Pikachu.
I wasn’t expecting a massive game with multiple open world regions, an incredibly satisfying list of things to tick off, all stemming from a basic “find Pokemon in the world doing various things and capture them” checklist book.
It’s ugly as hell — possibly one of the ugliest games ever made in the single worst region of Pokemon (essentially an ancient version of Diamond/Pearl— but man, oh man was just traipsing around the world for like 60 hours, capturing Pokemon instead of fighting them all the time, a blast.
Yeah… yeah, man. I think I like this way more than the standard Pokemon formula. Give me another Legends game, please! I’ll be there day one this time.
46. The Sushi Spinnery (PC)
More Kairosoft, this one’s about running a sushi joint in a town, so it’s about developing recipes, rather than building a town, though you do a bit of decorating in your sushi joints, which is cool.
47. Uncharted: Lost Legacy (PS5)
I love adventure movies, and I hate that there are almost no adventure games. Sure there’s the genre of “adventure games,” but man, I want more Romancing the Stone, Indiana Jones, The Mummy, you know?
Problem is, just about the only team making them is Naughty Dog, and their games are like “what if people made games exclusively by reading Story and Save the Cat?” They’re formulaic, unsurprising, unexciting, and derivative. I want more than what they offer. But when they’re the only ones out there offering anything like it, beggars can’t be choosers.
This felt like it was made without a lot of the polish and attention other Naughty Dog games get, but the open-ish level design was pretty cool. I liked the bit with the elephant. It’s rote.
48. Age of Empires IV (PC)
Return of the (age of) KING! Age of Empires is the series that got me into gaming; sure, I loved playing Flight Simulator, but Age of Empires was where I went “woah… games are fun.” One of my favorite memories was of hanging out at my friend Callum’s house, stopping playing X-Wing vs TIE Fighter, turning on Age of Empires 2, and hearing, somehow, the Star Wars soundtrack pumping out the speakers while we played Age of Empires.
I worried that Age of Empires IV would not be good, and I had two reasons for this.
First, the people running Age of Empires in the past, Forgotten Empires, hadn’t done a great job with Age of Empires, butchering some of my favorite maps (yes, butchering — the Rise of Rome demo maps were completely remade, destroying the initial design for something less interesting and more homogenous). Relic, the studio developing the game, has gone from making great RTS games to increasingly more fast-paced, tactics-focused, almost esports-esque games. A lot of classic RTS devs (a notoriously hard genre to produce in the best of times) insisted upon chasing the MOBA crowd, losing all the Dads (the RTS is absolutely a Dad Genre for Men In Their 40s And 50s) in the process.
Would Age of Empires IV do what worked so well for Age of Empires 1 and 2? Would they return to the slower paced, real time 4x-like gameplay of their predecessors? Would they be more interested in the history than some weird plot like 3?
Age of Empires IV may just be the best game in the series, at least from a campaign standpoint.
I only had one complaint:
why wasn’t there any fishing in the campaign?
49. Daymare 1998 (PC)
Apparently, Daymare 1998 started life as a Resident Evil 2 fangame that became its own thing when Capcom went “hey, you guys wanna see something?” and showed them an early version of Resident Evil 2 remake, looked at Daymare, and went “so since we’re doing RE2, would you be willing to make this its own thing?”
The results were… mixed, but apparently the team got to consult on Resident Evil 2, and Capcom provided some help for Daymare.
It’s… a game that is admirable for a small budget, but one that also shows exactly why you should hire real writers and voice actors for what you’re doing. Games are about doing things, and if players start going “well, why should I?” and you don’t have a sufficient reason other than “to play more of the game,” then you’ll have a player who sees “playing more” as a chore, not as something to look forward to. You need good reasons to keep going. This provides little to none.
I finished Daymare 1998 because I learn from all games, good or bad. Playing the bad ones helps me understand the pitfalls to avoid in my own games. Most people won’t want to finish.
50. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2022 game) (PC)
I don’t like that Activision isn’t just calling this Modern Warfare 5. I get it — it’s kinda a reboot — but it’s a different story completely, just with characters who have the same names (and are totally different people).
It’s an Infinity Ward campaign; not as good as Infinite Warfare or the good Modern Warfares, maybe as good as, if not better than Modern Warfare reboot the first — the one called “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” and not “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.” There’s a ton of creative, awe-inspiring set pieces throughout.
I had one problem, and it’s a bit of an odd one that might deserve its own article.
You know how I say that the best games are the ones with great encounter variety? Modern Warfare 2 is a game that has lots of encounter variety… but it followed the letter of the law, not the spirit.
There’s so much encounter variety that it feels like you never just get to play the shooter-as-shooter. Every level is an exception, every level has its own gimmicks… which means you’re not employing the basic skills and just going around having good action, there’s always some distinct modifier, some specific thing you oughtta be doing. So you get some cool missions — like, hey, I need to swim into this place, I need to walk through civilians and do a covert extraction, I need to snipe people here — but the flexibility of something like the original Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare doesn’t feel like it’s there?
Encounter variety is good, special conditions on the player within that variety? You probably want to be a bit more sparing than that.
51. What the Golf (Switch)
I want you to go get this game and play it.
I am not going to tell you anything about it but this: Jon Blow once said something along the lines of “the perfect game is a puzzle game that exhausts all possibilities of how you can solve its puzzles.” He was wrong then, and he’s wrong now, but a broken clock is right once a day, and What the Golf was his once-a-day.
It’s the best.
52. Digimon Survive (PC)
Digimon means everything to me. Seeing a Fox Kids bumper for the episode where Myotismon goes to the real world and the kids are left behind facing a Devidramon had me interested (Digimon Adventure, episode 27). The first episode I saw was from Adventure 02, about 52 episodes later, where Arukenimon tries to get a Golemon to destroy a dam. These memories are etched into my brain; I know where I was, what I was doing, who I was with, all of it.
This series got me onto the internet. It’s the series that got me into forum roleplaying, which got me onto video game websites, which ultimately led to the reason I’m here today. It’s all thanks to Digimon.
So yeah, I’ve been excitedly waiting for Digimon Survive for a long time; tactics and Digimon? I was excited.
And man… did it… kinda deliver.
It’s weird how a consistent theme of this year has been that I kinda tired of the combat systems of a bunch of games with great stories? Yeah, Digimon Survive went the same way — the story is absolutely fucking cool, and does some jaw-dropping shit (genuinely some of the most ‘holy shit’ beats of the year for me, more than any other game on this list), but… the actual visual novel stuff is a biiiiiiiiit dry, while the tactics stuff is… well, there isn’t quite enough of it. Also, I was a bit bummed that I couldn’t get my favorite evolution line (Renamon → Sakuyamon) until very late game, and it was the lesser Sakuyamon version, Miko Mode.
Still, some really, really cool storytelling going on here. A very neat game. Just needs a bit tighter pacing and more variety in the tactics battles. You could tell it didn’t have much of a budget.
53. Soul Hackers 2 (PC)
The reason I played Soul Hackers was so that I’d be ready for Soul Hackers 2, but they’re not really related. I miss the horror of Soul Hackers, but Soul Hackers 2 was still a rip-roarin’ good time with some great voice acting and cool plot. You can tell the budget isn’t what Atlus gives to its other games, but it was really, really fun. I had a blast. Definitely a recommend; the way you recruit monsters is different than you’ll be used to if you’re only an SMT/Persona kinda person, though.
I feel like I should write a lot more about this because I put 45 absolutely fantastic hours into it, but I don’t really know what else to say. It was awesome.
54. Marvel’s Spider-Man (PC)
I think this is the worst Insomniac game I have ever played. It looks great, runs great, and just… absolutely wants to lick cop boots more than anything I’ve ever seen. I aggressively did not care about the main plot, the combat never really felt that great to me… there just isn’t a lot to like about the game. If you’re a die-hard person who needs Spider-Man, then great. This game is very Spider-Man but with a lot more “oh, wow, I wish I was a cop! cops are so good and don’t do bad things! cops are important! society can’t exist without cops!”
It was grating.
Unlike most open world games, which are zen, meditative experiences for me where I gradually clear out the entire map, I wanted Spider-Man to be over, and I was glad when it was. I hope the Wolverine game is way better.
Ran great on the Steam deck, though.
55. Frog Detective 2 (PC)
I like Frog Detective. I was lucky enough to meet Grace Bruxner briefly at GDC 2019 (the Frog Detective booth at the IGFs was next to ours), and I was like “oh damn yeah I hope we get more of these games.”
We got more of these games.
They are short, charming, full of wit, absolutely worth the price. Drop whatever you’re doing and get all three.
“doc, aren’t you gonna talk about the content?” no, go in blind.
56. Pokemon Violet (Switch)
As a mainline Pokemon game, Scarlet might actually be the best one.
You know this shit if you’ve ever played Pokemon: go to eight gyms, battle the leaders, do the side story with Team Whatever, catch ’em all, get the legendary, and so on.
The story is a bit more interesting, though — there’s some stuff going on that makes it more interesting; it focuses more on why people want things, and the lengths they’ll go to in order to get it. It’s also more freeform — the world is bigger, more open, got more going on. I like it a lot.
What I didn’t like is a thing that occurs near the end where they introduce the laziest — and you know me, I literally wrote about why Pokemon’s devs aren’t lazy — Pokemon designs I have ever seen. Why? Well… it’s basically a palette swap. Got a little more going on than that, but it’s basically that. And you can’t evolve your Pokemon into that form either, which is a big pet peeve I have (I don’t like Pokemon that can’t evolve unless they’re legendary or mythic to begin with! A pokemon that’s a different version of an existing Pokemon just makes it worse!). A sour taste left in my mouth on what is otherwise a very good Pokemon game — though not as good as Arceus.
57. The Callisto Protocol (XSX)
I was very excited for Callisto, worried about the studio head’s praise of crunch… and… then I played a game that wasn’t all that great… at first.
Callisto Protocol wants to be cinematic first, and the gameplay suffers as a result. You do mechanics that aren’t super intuitive, but look great if you get the timing right; you die if you fail. That leads to a very, very boring, frustrating combat experience, where you’re trying to time everything just right rather than act intuitively, just so it can look nice.
It’s The Witcher 2’s problem. It’s The Witcher 3’s problem. It’s focusing on pretty motion capture rather than gameplay that feels good; you can make the combat feel a lot better by turning on auto-dodging and reducing difficulty to easy. It’s still janky, but now you’ve got something closer to Dead Space, something that feels more intuitive and fun to play.
The game’s a looker, the story’s… well, it’s generic, but generic in the way I enjoy. A couple tough fights that really push you to use (or ignore) certain systems aside, and I really had a lot of fun otherwise.
I think there’s a really good game in there, but it’s held back by the fixation on something nobody actually cares about: making the game look nice in the marketing material.
Gamers don’t care about that shit. Motion captured — slow — movements aren’t nearly as fun as a game that feels a lot snappier and more intuitive to control.
Also? Way too many vents for my liking; did nothing for the gameplay, weren’t fun to experience. Added nothing to the game.
I know that sounds like a lot of complaints, but it’s all the stuff you gotta get past to get to the really good game inside. If you can get past ’em, you’re in for a treat.
58. Frog Detective 3 (PC)
Frog Detective 3 is perfect.
59. Cultic (PC)
A long time ago, a friend at the time was considering leaving video games forever. I had been jokingly telling people in some tweets on my old account that “if you want to make your indie game better, make it a first person shooter.” This friend sounded dejected because he’d been blocked by some guy in gaming, so I tried to cheer him up. We’d been talking about Quake a lot, so I suggested he make a first person shooter. I knew he’d be good at it, I knew he loved it, so I said he oughtta try.
A few months later, he came back to me with E1M1 of his new shooter, a first for him. This must’ve been about eight or so years ago now? I have that old build he sent somewhere. He told me he was gonna send it to a publisher, and presumably did, because they went off and made a very successful boomer shooter together and it started a whole big movement.
We don’t talk much these days — he stopped talking to me after he got famous and I did a thread on Dark Souls and disability, I think as a response to some of the harassment I’d gotten (not related to him) on the article I wrote about the series.
When I played Cultic, a game clearly inspired by the movement that followed my friend’s game, I thought about that friend, and how I missed him.
60. The Enigma Machine (PC)
This is one of those games I don’t even know how to write about, but I think everyone should try. Good price, good length, inspired use of the form. I hesitate to say more because I think you oughtta try it for yourself! Honestly, a wild time.
I had to look up (literally, hehe) one puzzle.
61. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 (Switch)
My buddy Cory and I blasted our way through this; if you want big, dumb fun running around as classic-style, non-movie-version Marvel heroes, this is the game for you. I wish it was on more platforms; I’d probably have played it more if it was on PC.
62. Bright Memory: Infinite (PC)
Bright Memory was a very pretty game “made by one person” (actually several people who stole some asset flips), but as I understand it, they made good on it, and gave anyone who picked up the original Bright Memory a free copy of Infinite, which is maybe two hours long, looks great, plays real smooth, and feels, at times, even better than Shadow Warrior 3. It’s just… super super short. A neat experience.
63. Untitled Goose Game (Switch)
I tried to play this game during the worst period of my life as a distraction, and I couldn’t do it. To put part of that period behind me, I decided, “hey, I’m gonna finish this game,” jumped in, picked up right where I left off, and played the rest of the game. It’s a bit of a bummer that games fade so quickly these days; Untitled Goose Game is charming and delightful — never has it felt so good to cause mischief — but it is super short. You may have noticed a lot of my reviews here have been short; it’s because a lot of these games near the end of the year were themselves short, and I just don’t have that much to say.
What can I tell you about Untitled Goose Game? That I didn’t quite figure out how to do some of the puzzles and had to look up a guide? That when I did figure out puzzles on my own, I laughed, hooted, and hollered? That I thought the ending was flawless? All of these things are true. The game was a delight. I would love for you to play it.
64. Monster Hunter Rise (PC)
I wrote about this one in 2021.
A very silly person once insisted to me that Monster Hunter would be dumbed down if it came to other platforms, and the reason that Monster Hunter World — Capcom’s best-selling game of all time, it’s worth noting, more than any Resident Evil or Street Fighter — was not given a number at the end of its title was because the “true” Monster Hunter 5 would be coming.
With Rise, it’s clear Capcom just isn’t going to do numbered entries anymore. As we know, World was a massive success because it turns out that doing things like “forgetting to bring sharpening tools and having to go home and restart the mission,” or “having a bunch of little map sections instead of one contiguous map” aren’t as fun as what World was doing.
Monster Hunter World didn’t do everything perfectly, as much as I love it. For one thing, it doesn’t have Lagiacrus or Gigginox. For another, mechanics like the cloaks and the light bugs that help you track monsters made the game feel… okay, but not always super satisfying.
Rise starts to layer on a bit more complexity, bring back a bit more of the weirdness the series was known for, while retaining a lot of the playability that made World the best game in the series.
But now we have Rise, and it’s a marked improvement on World in just about every way that isn’t graphics, for a whole host of reasons. However, it does commit one unforgiveable crime. Just the absolute worst thing: it has Khezu, which is basically Gigginox but not, and it has Mizutsune, which is like a Lagiacrus with badass lightning element replaced with fuckin bubble bath. Seriously, its element is basically just soap.
Monster Hunter Rise was some of the most fun I had playing in 2021 for sure. It’s a great game, despite the slow start. I think it’s probably the best game in the entire series.
So, now, here I am in 2023, having played the game yet again in 2022, which should tell you two things:
first, we have the unique opportunity to discuss this game in light of having already played it.
second, it was good enough for me to play twice.
So, what do I think?
Well, I can say I was a bit less enthusiastic to play it all again, but it plays beautifully on PC. I spent most of the time with my good buddy Blaid, doing a bunch of grinding and leveling so we could go kill some of the higher level monsters from the new Sunbreak DLC, and in the process, we completed the main campaign, this time on PC.
With Monster Hunter games, I always feel a bit lost; remembering all the controls is something I’ve struggled with, and positioning myself or getting the attacks I want off is a bit less intuitive than I’d like, so I often find myself feeling like I’m not really helping my team and there’s no way I can get better.
But that’s been me with every Monster Hunter game! It’s always fun when you’re playing with friends, and the dramatic, thrilling monster music picks up (unless it’s khezu, who has no music), and then you’re knee deep in a gigantic beastie leaping and spinning and flipping and roaring. It’s a good fuckin’ time. I think my feeling of uselessness has cut into my enjoyment a bit, but quite often, when someone asks “wanna play some Monster Hunter?” I’m there.
65. Gears of War 2 (XSX)
There was once a person who said that the worst thing about Gears of War 2 is that it was almost too good. When I played it for the first time around 2010, when I got my first Xbox, I found myself enthralled. While Gears 2 isn’t the absolute, unmitigatedly perfect video game that Gears 3 is, I found myself remarking to my friend Cory “wow, this is way better than I remembered!”
The worst thing about Gears 2?
It isn’t Gears 3.
66. Kirby and the Forgotten Land (Switch)
The problem I have with first party Nintendo games is how saccharine they are. They’re too sweet, but also too abstract, too familiar. You’re some lil’ cute guy in a world full of other lil’ cute guys and some of them want you dead and it’s charming but it’s almost calculatedly charming, and eventually, I have to step away and play something heartier, more filling.
Kirby is the first main Nintendo game of this style (so, basically, precluding Zelda and Pikmin) I think I’ve ever beaten? I’ve played dozens of Marios and Kirbies and Donkey Kongs and the like, and they all blur together for me.
This, the first 3D Kirby, was a fun little romp; like the other Nintendo games, it took me a while to really be able to sink my teeth into it, but once I did, boy howdy did I have a great time.
67. The Room (PC)
Okay, imagine a game about a room, but the actual gameplay is solving puzzles that are… super interconnected. Like, imagine a hexagonal-sided box that’s got some carvings and knobs on it. You look around. What’s this? A knob that looks like it can be unscrewed? So you turn it around, and it comes loose, and it’s actually a key, but the key is metal and folded in all sorts of ways, so you’ve got to examine the key, move some metal bits around until it looks like a pattern you’ve seen elsewhere on the box and voila! Now you can open the box!
That’s The Room. It’s short, it’s cool, it’s a dense, beautiful, intricate puzzle game. I think the biggest trouble I have with the game (figuring what I can interact with next) may be an unavoidable necessity of the puzle design. The puzzles are brilliantly intuitive — but finding out what puzzle to do next can be a bit frustrating. It might be too easy if you didn’t have to hunt, I suppose.
Also it’s got some weird horror shit going on in the background.
68. The Room 2 (PC)
The Room but now you can go around rooms and solve multiple puzzles which all connect to each other.
69. Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Switch)
I like Fire Emblem’s combat quite a bit compared to XCOM — where XCOM is about moving individual units to individual spaces on the map like, say, behind cover, Fire Emblem is more “here’s an abstract representation of a map; it’s themed like a city, but don’t worry about scale or anything. If your units are within range, you can fight each other.” Then it shows you roughly how much damage you’ll do (within a range) and all sorts of other stuff; this means you can be way more methodical and thoughtful about what you’re doing, and you don’t run into “95% chance to beat this guy or that guy.”
The characters are wonderful, though the plot suffers because of the game’s structure. It’s no secret that I love games with social elements — I think I’ve been in love with the idea since Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker’s base building, or Dragon Age: Origins’ camp—and that’s a big part of the reason I love Three Houses. One of the big games I’ve always wanted to do is about spending time like turns; it was cool to see a similar system in this game. However, it’s… how do I put this… Nintendo is the most valuable company in Japan, but the rigidity of the systems feels… less than AAA.
I liked what I played, but there’s so much of it, and it’s all stuck in this super rigid “we’re at this monastery and you get to explore every weekend and do a bunch of busywork between that.” I think I would’ve preferred a slightly different structure, one that isn’t rigidly tied to calendar progress, especially after the timeskip, where I’m still at the monastery even though it’s ostensibly been abandoned.
Also this marks the first time I’ve completed a Fire Emblem game, so up there, where I said I’d only completed Pikmin and Zelda (3 and BOTW, respectively)? Well, thanks to 2022, we can add Kirby and Fire Emblem to the list.
I really enjoyed the 60+ hours I spent playing the game. I’m sad I didn’t understand some of the recruiting systems until later. A great story, cool characters, and an absolutely awesome time, though, that’s for sure. Just had some quibbles with the lack of variety in the whole school structure. If you want a good calendar progress system, check out Persona 5 Royal.
70. Producer 2021 (PC)
I don’t love adventure games, so color me surprised when I absolutely adored Producer 2021. What a world!!! What a vibe!!! Please make more games like this, thank you.
71. Stray (PC)
The much-hyped cat game from BlueTwelve, Stray is a charming little adventure where you play as a cat. It’s better than it sounds; I’m not sure I can do a good enough job telling you how much I enjoyed it. What I will say is that this is absolutely, one hundred percent, the best-animated cat in a video game. Recommended. Really good five-hour length. Good time.
72. Halo: Spartan Assasult (PC)
I played this because I was looking for a few short games to get me up to 69, because that’s the internet funny number, and I thought it would be a fun little game to try. It was alright. And also I didn’t write down MW2 so I actually did 70 games. Oops.
73. Eschaton (PC)
A short, eerie PS1-style horror game.
74. Ace Combat: Joint Assault (PC)
There’s a rule and it goes like this: Ace Combat games set in Strangereal (4, 5, 0, 6, 7, Skies of Deception, and Assault Horizon Legacy+ (NOT ASSAULT HORIZON, WHICH IS SET ON EARTH AND THEREFORE BAD)) are good, Ace Combat games set in the real world are not good.
Joint Assault is the exception; it’s pretty okay. Same gameplay as all the other games (because why mess with perfection?), cool enemy bosses to fight… slight issues with emulation on the Playstation Vita, which is what I was playing it on (I don’t want to risk my PSP UMD and so I opted to play a digital version on the Vita) but then I ran into some cutscene crashes, and the fix involved playing it on PC and doing some tweaks to the emulator.
This one is better than Assault Horizon because it actually has enemy superplanes, at least.
If you want to read more about what I think of Ace Combat as a series — and all the games like it — read here.
So, hey, wow. That’s uh… that’s the list!
Next year, what am I into?
Final Fantasy 9
Final Fantasy 12
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Digital Devil Saga
God of War 2
Persona 4 Golden
Dark Souls 1, 2, and 3
Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna: The Golden Country
Xenoblade Chronicles 3
Persona 3 Portable PC
Except… between when I wrote this at the top of the article and now, two things happened!
- Persona 4 Golden was updated to 64-bit by Atlus, which means all the mods are broken now, including the cheat sheet mod.
- I beat Dark Souls.
- I also beat Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and I’m working on Dead Space.
What else am I looking forward to? Like… the actual 2023 games?
Resident Evil 4 Remake
STALKER 2 (though I’m betting this gets pushed to next year)
Alan Wake 2 (if it gets pushed to 2024, I won’t be surprised)
Tears of the Kingdom, maybe? I didn’t love Breath of the Wild
Final Fantasy XVI
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty (I loved Nioh 2 and Stranger of Paradise, so… :D)
Pikmin 4 (loved it)
Hi Fi Rush (announced and dropped the same day)
Fire Emblem Engage (I saw a cutscene that made me laugh, so I know I’m in)
Baldur’s Gate 3
Starfield (because I always enjoy me some Bethesda games)
It was a difficult year for me for a lot of reasons, but hey. I played some real fuckin’ good games. I can’t wait to see what 2023 holds.
Thing is… I’m getting back into rocket-building as a hobby, so… who knows? Maybe I’ll play fewer games than ever before.