Games of 2021
I didn't complete many games this year, what with having a mischievous imp, in the form of my new son, crawling and clamoring all over the house. But I did play a bunch of games, some of which I even played to the point that I feel like writing about them in Ye Olde Traditional GOTY List format.
13. Guilty Gear Strive (ACTUAL 2021 GAME!)
Honestly, Guilty Gear Strive barely made the list. I had been slacking in a couple different ways on fighting games in 2021, and the major victim of that is probably this game. I love Guilty Gear Xrd, and was very much expecting to dive completely into Strive, but it's been out for six months now and I've barely played online, and scarcely figured out any characters aside from some dabbling with May and Potemkin. I don't know if something just isn't clicking for me, if my brain is just crossing its brain-arms waiting for Dizzy, or if I'm suddenly a busy parent and I haven't yet relearned time management and mental preparation for fighting games.
What I did have time for, however, was one get together on the very last day of 2021, where a friend and I just mashed in Strive for a couple hours, laughing at the ridiculousness, talking about arcade sticks and programming and whatever else came up, and trying to explain the anime backstory to my friend and anyone else who wandered by to see the Jellyfish Pirates or whatever. That was a good time. Casually enjoying fighting games is a real good time and that's what put Guilty Gear Strive on the list.
12. Corpse Party for the fourth time (2021* GAME!)
I very much enjoy creeping doom horror, and I very much enjoy adventure/visual novel games, so yes, I very much enjoyed replaying Corpse Party (specifically: Corpse Party Blood Covered: Repeated Fear) on PS4. I know what's coming every time, yet the game's atmosphere and tone still send little scares up my spine, the audio and visual notes hitting just the right way.
I've played, to varying levels of completion, the PSP, PC, 3DS, and now the PS4 versions of the game, and I'm pretty sure once I can get an evening alone in the dark, I'm going to fly through all the extra new stuff in this version and watch a bunch of kids fight against oppressive despair and death, and of course indulge in the bad ends.
For whatever reason, 2021 was the year that I got into Angband in some kind of non-trivial fashion. I've been dungeon crawling with Thith, the Half-Troll Warrior and actually doing a pretty good job not dying. It's nowhere near NetHack in terms of depth (or opaqueness), but it is a fun thing to pick at while I'm at the PC doing other stuff. It feels like a gateway drug to all sorts of other roguelikes, really, and I do expect to return to NetHack at some point, but for now, I'm enjoying just trucking everything I can see, with nearly no consequences, thanks to troll regeneration and some good drops.
10. Doki Doki Literature Club Plus! (2021* GAME!)
One of the things that legitimately gives me the heebie-jeebies, even when I know it's coming, is computer UI corruption bullshit, and boy howdy does Doki Doki Literature Club deliver on that front. I don't think it's a spoiler to allude to the fact that DDLC is not what it appears to be, but I'll dance around some of the reveals and just say I love the shit that goes down in this game.
Mainlining most of the game in the course of a night, staying up way too late in bed, getting creeped out by the shit and enjoying every second of it is a stand-out memory for me in games in 2021. Bad things happening to schoolkids is apparently a thing for me this year.
9. Ketsui Deathtiny: Kizuna Jigoku Tachi
I don't have a whole lot to say about this one, really. I'm not good at shmups, especially Cave shmups, but I enjoy the hell out of them, and they're a good excuse to get the arcade stick out when I'm not feeling like fighting games. This is a fun one, and I might actually be able to 1cc it on a couple modes, with a bit more practice.
8. Granblue Fantasy Versus
I didn't really play a ton of GBVS, to be honest, but this is the fighting game I kept coming back to in a "I just want to push some buttons occasionally" capacity. It has an enjoyable mid-grade complexity feel to it, something that I can engage with without sweating too much, and it's pretty on the eyes. It was the perfect fighting game for me in 2021, low stakes, low effort, and just pleasant. I'd tool around in it for a half hour between evening duties, and just have a blast. I wish it was more active among my friends online, because I deeply enjoy it.
ALSO IT HAS A BIG STOMPY MAN WHO HILARIOUSLY JUST BULLIES THROUGH SUPERS.
7. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney and PW: AA - Justice for All (by way of the Trilogy)
One of the joys of the year was playing some games with my wife, who isn't much of an action gamer, but she does love a good story and a good puzzle, making the first two games in the Ace Attorney an obvious choice for some quiet couch time. We'd steal an hour or two here and there to dive into the investigation, and then try to do the trial as soon as we could, lest the details of the case escape our shared memory of the crime scene and the players.
And a shared memory it was. I think it was a pretty even split for one or the other of us to recognize the twist, or identify the next piece of evidence to present, and we made our way through the cases with relatively little save scumming. "I never would have thought of that!" was a pretty common exclamation while we were playing, impressed by our different approaches to processing the case.
Couch co-op visual novels!
6. Katamari Damacy Reroll, yet again
There's no better place than here to talk about the monster I have literally and figuratively created, that monster being my son, who clocked in his first year in 2021. It was only a couple months, if not weeks, before he was totally obsessed with electronics, especially the TV remote and PS4 controllers. We were astonished when he learned that hitting the power button on the remote should mean the TV does something, and would turn to watch the TV when messing with any vaguely remote-looking thing.
And oh man, that PS4 system beep, when the console turns on. When he hears that, he knows exactly what's coming next is sweet stimuli, like nectar to a baby. He quickly came to understand what it's like for a controller to be off, or to have no battery left and thus not respond to his pressing the PS button, so we definitely weren't able to fool him with decoy controllers for long; he wanted to play with whatever controller was in use, and there's no negotiating with a toddler. He needed something simple, visually interesting, and plausibly controllable by random baby inputs. He — maybe all of us — needed Katamari Damacy.
And really, I don't know what needs to be said about Katamari Damacy that hasn't already been said. It's an energetic, delightful, ridiculous game, with just a hint of unspoken darkness ("you know all those people are getting turned into stars, right?"), it just turns out it's also perfect to help entertain a kid who has already started to love games.
I'm not sure how many times I've played through Katamari Damacy and its sequels. Heck, this isn't even the first time I've played through Reroll. Regardless, I love these games, and now this one in particular.
5. A Link to the Past Randomizer
In 2021, a couple of my friends and I took a pretty deep dive into LTTP randos, and I think the most enjoyable part of it was actually the out-of-game experience, trading times and sharing tech as we all got slowly better at playing weird LTTP. And weird it was! We even raced each other a couple times, and did some keysanity runs, which was a particular delight for me, as I love exceptionally random random stuff.
This was also a great excuse to use the MiSTer, which is something I woefully neglected for most of 2021, and that in turn was also an excuse to get out the arcade stick, because hey, digital inputs are the native interface for classic (not retro!) games. It turns out the MVS button layout colors make for a pretty good row of Super Nintendo buttons, if you match the colors with those on the Super Famicom controller.
Anyway, ALTTPR runs are a lot of fun.
4. Persona 5 Royal
It brings me a bit of shame to admit that I still haven't beaten Persona 5, or Persona 5 Royal, in however many years it's been since release, and just as shameful that all this time, I keep finding myself comparing it to Persona 4 Golden, generally unfavorably in every facet except the combat.
But then, as I think about it, I'm coming to realize that maybe this is a story of transition, of becoming a different kind of adult in some tangible way. A decade ago, I was able to pour hundreds of hours straight into Persona 4 Golden, injecting myself into every element of the characters' stories and the investigation on a whole. A decade later, I find myself in a new, great home, married to a great wife, father to a great son, and the raw time necessary to latch onto those characters just doesn't exist anymore, at least not for me, not right now.
Persona 5 Royal is still a good game, I am sure of it, even if it's not controversial to say that the characters pale in comparison to those in Persona 4 Golden. But, also, I know that I have changed, and that's okay. It'll probably take me another year to finish P5R, and in the end, it'll have been a very good game that I enjoyed, my wife watching while she could, while she wasn't busy wrangling the kid, or washing the dishes, and only when we weren't too busy changing diapers and trying to keep this family running smoothly. Not to get sappy, but that's a wonderfully different kind of engagement with this game than with P4G, and I don't mind it in the slightest.
In any event, the negotiation is fun, I'm glad that's back in this game, though I find myself spending more time shaking down the shadows than trying to actually recruit them, but, you know. Kids gotta get paid.
3. Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami
Do you know how many hours it takes to platinum both Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami? I do, I think it's like a thousand. But I platinumed them both, I love the stupid goofy stuff in these games, I like the action, and I actually get some kind of simple, mind-is-already-numbed-so-let's-just-play-mahjong-for-an-hour fun out of the minigames. But, past all of that, there's a lovable earnestness to Kiryu, that somehow manages to make a game about Japanese crime syndicates feel wholesome.
There's a really fun portion of Yakuza Kiwami, among all of the nonsense, where Kiryu is trying his best to be some kind of quasi-father figure to a young girl, and she's asking smart questions way above her age, and Kiryu is doing his best to react in an paternal fashion while still kind of being, you know, Kiryu, and it's just great. For a series that embraces how ridiculous it is — and my god, do I love those ridiculous moments — it's also… kind of a dad game? Is that a genre?
2. Hitman 2
I don't think there's a whole lot that needs to be said about Hitman, because I love it for all the obvious, surface reasons. Hitmanning is fun, and all it took was a simple reminder of that for me to go "you know, I haven't played Hitman 2 yet, I should do that." So I did, and I'm still working on getting all the trophies on all the Hitman 2 and 1, again, content before I truly complete the game, because I just love murdering that much.
1. Final Fantasy IX, again
Final Fantasy IX is the fourth best Final Fantasy, but also in some ways my favorite. It's long but never too drawn out, the combat and customization stays interesting throughout the game, and in a lot of ways it is a sort of greatest hits of Final Fantasy themes in plot and characterization. And that's pretty enjoyable!
What Final Fantasy IX means to me in 2021, though, aside from just being an enjoyable replay of an RPG I loved when I was younger, is a reminder of the past, a gate between the old and the new. Final Fantasy after IX was — is — undoubtedly different, but FFIX will always remain, and there are memories associated with that game, memories of friends and family lost. Those memories don't die either, is I guess what I mean to say, but games of the past are vehicles to those memories returning to the forefront of life, reminding one that in some way, a complete life is one that's kinda fucking unfair, but that's just how it goes.
I'm not really sure where I'm going with this, other than thinking of how I love FFIX, and it reminds me of stories of people now gone, and I smile at the memory of those people. Maybe some folks would be bothered by those sudden interjections in the day-to-day, or find them morose in some way, but those people only survive in our memories now, and if they're going to haunt me by way of a great RPG, well, I guess I'm okay with that. Come on and join me for the replay of happier times.
My plan is to platinum Final Fantasy IX, but I don't think I'm going to be "done" with it, exactly. I mean, for starters, it'll probably get rereleased for PS9 or something and I'll have to get a titanium or unobtainium trophy or whatever. I dunno. It'll come up in the rotation again, I'm sure, so it's not like my plan is to say goodbye to it, either, but it, along with the memories I've associated with it, will always be kicking around in my head.
Supplemental: Games That Should Have Made the List
Whew. That got to be kind of a lot at the end there. I wasn't expecting this list, this GOTY thing, to have become this big personal reflection deal, but I guess that's what I wanted to do when I was actually sat down to write a thing.
Anyway, the games above are great and some of them mean something special to me. These following games are exciting and/or interesting to me, but maybe they just came out too late in the year, or I've been slacking because I'm playing other stuff. Maybe they show up on a later very special episode of GOTY.
- The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II — too many RPGs, not enough time; also, I am fated to forever have Trails games in my backlog
- Metroid Dread — seems cool
- Shin Megami Tensei V — too many RPGs, not enough time; also, I haven't even finished Kyuuyaku Megami Tensei yet
- Melty Blood: Type Lumina — I registered for this at Frosty Faustings as an apology to the fighting game gods for being really excited for this and then never playing it
- Record of Lodoss War -Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth- — it is Deedlit, and I couldn't get the Steam version to work in Linux, so I'm glad this got a PS5 release