For Archival purposes, I thought it might be a good idea to compile my entire top ten lists from 2020 into a single post. Just to make it easier for people to go back and look at them after the fact. So, without any more fluff, here are my favourite 10 games I actually found the time to play in 2020.
#10: Paper Mario: The Origami King
Played on Nintendo Switch | Released 17th July | Developed by Intelligent Systems
The Mario RPG games are some of the best-written games Nintendo produce. Obviously, a lot of the credit goes to the localisation teams in that regard, but that shouldn’t take away from just how much charm this game has. Like every other Paper Mario game since The Thousand Year Door, I fell short of actually finishing it, but that shouldn’t take away from how much this game had smiling like a dumbass in the hours I did spend with it.
Paper Mario is a series that has become acutely aware of its own aesthetic and has started using that to the absolute upmost in its story, it’s mechanics and its design. In this adventure, the paper Mushroom Kingdom has been invaded by origami people, who have started folding, bending and creasing the denizens into malicious slightly more three-dimensional versions of themselves.
There has been some pushback against these games since The Thousand Year Door on Gamecube. People loved that game because it was filled to the brim with originality and a solid, traditional turn-based combat system. In the games since, the developers have constantly tried to push the envelope and try new things with the combat, not usually to a warm reception.
And that might be the biggest failing of The Origami King. The combat is laid out more like a puzzle than the traditional, turn based affair that most fans actually want. Within a radial grid, the player must align enemies into lines or clusters so to optimally damage them using the various combat abilities at Mario’s disposal. The problem with this being that after doing dozens and dozens of these encounters, the game never really mixes things up.
By the time I was half way through the game I was very tired of doing these puzzles. While the game does change it up during boss encounters to great effect, but these are few and far between. The game’s base combat becomes tiresome and ends up feeling like it gets in the way of the aspect of the game you really want to keep up with: e.g. the story and the writing.
Because that truly is where this game shines the brightest. The set pieces and situations Mario finds himself in as he progresses through this bizarre, paper-based world are delightful and the main reason I continued to forge forward even after the combat has become an exhausting grind. Honestly, had this game had a more traditional combat system, one more aligned with Thousand Year Door or the Mario & Luigi RPG series, then I think I would have happily seen it through to the end.
For as innovative and creative as Nintendo continue to be in the development of both their hardware and their software, I feel like sometimes they should just throw their audience a bone and go back to basics. Especially with how close they’ve gotten with the last few Paper Matio games, only to fall away at the last minute.
I do want to get back to this game, but with so many other games I’m already behind on, I feel like Paper Mario and the Origami king is doomed to sit there half finished for the rest of time. Right next to Luigi’s Mansion 3.
Maybe I’m wrong in blaming Covid, and I just don’t have the time to play games anymore… This game is bright and charming though, and has a great soundtrack. It’s a shame it’s not going to get more attention. The Mario RPGs always woefully underappreciated.
#9: Call of Duty: Warzone
Played on Xbox One X | Released 20th March | Developed by Infinity Ward & Raven Software
2019 was the year that a Battle Royale game finally broke through and got me invested. The newly minted genre really struggled to grab me when the biggest hitters were the overly slow-paced and realistic PUBG and the ADHD fuelled turbo-Minecraft simulator that was Fortnite.
The game that got me was Apex Legends, which managed to hit that perfect blend of pace, accessibility and tone that would get me really invested in the genre. So with me spending so much time playing Apex, it was only a matter of time until another big Battle Royale showed up to grab my interest.
Warzone is a unique game for me, being on this list for a number of different reasons that usually make me pick games. For one, while it is a new mode added to last year’s Modern Warfare, it is technically its own game. It’s a free download that can be owned and played totally separate from Modern Warfare, and it’s also a game that looks like it’s going to bridge the gap between Call of Duty games too. Although Activisison’s route to going about that has been garbage.
I’ll get to that in a bit later though. Warzone is a game I enjoyed entirely as a multiplayer experience. I have played next to none of this game on my own. Rather, the former social group I used to play a lot of Destiny with have not mostly moved onto this game and end up playing it most nights. As a consequence, I found myself roped into playing it too, and really started to appreciate it as a result.
Warzone takes a lot of the things I enjoy about Apex and applies it to a Call of Duty format. Pinging, how forgiving it is, allowing players second, third and even fourth chances to continue on even after going down and the ability to pull your own weapon loadouts into the mode from multiplayer. It’s all the little things it does in combination with the incredibly solid base gameplay that made me fall deep into the base Modern Warfare game.
As an aside, I spend a significant amount of the early parts of 2020 playing the Modern Warfare multiplayer. It being the most time I invested and enjoyed Call of Duty Multiplayer since Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. And that months-long obsession easily translated to Warzone when it came out in March.
It’s just such a massive shame that this year’s Call of Duty: Cold War seems to have failed to capitalise on the goodwill forged from Modern Warfare in just about any way. I’ll be very curious to see whether the new implementation of Warzone with Cold War will take the better, more modern feeling gameplay from the older game or “graduate” to the Black Ops gameplay, which feels more archaic by comparison.
Everything about the transition from Modern Warfare to Black Ops feels like a big old mess though. For example, I own both games on disk, after playing some Black Ops a few weeks ago, I got invited to play Warzone. Here I thought that because Warzone is a free, separate download, I’d be able to jump straight into it. So I backed into the menu of Black Ops, selected the Warzone option that sat right in the middle. The game then proceeded to shut down, try to load Modern Warfare and then fail.
Telling me I needed to insert the Modern Warfare disk to play Warzone. Y’know, the free download that exists as its own executable. Everything about this transition between both games and the console generations as been a shambles, and Call of Duty’s strange inability to fix what should be their first ports of call is difficult to understand.
The fact that I’m still getting 100GB patches for this game is very difficult to swallow, not to mention the drama people are going through on PS5 where the game console if automatically trying to download both PS4 and PS5 versions of the game simultaneously. But that’s another matter all together.
As much as a shitstorm as Call of Duty and the console generation transition has been, I got a lot of enjoyment out of Warzone this year, purely as a multiplayer, social experience. Had I not had people pulling me towards it for most of the year, I probably wouldn’t have given Warzone a second thought. But as much as it pains me to say it, it probably is the best, most accessible Battle Royale game you can go out and play right now.
(Except for the two obvious exceptions that I’m going to pointedly not bring up here.)
Played on Xbox One X | Released 18th August | Developed by Thunder Lotus Games
While I’ve already said that I didn’t play that many new games this year, a lot of the time I did spend one video games in 2020 came from the staggeringly good value proposition that is a subscription to Game Pass. Allowing me to pick up games like Indivisible and Doom Eternal, although one game from 2020 did come out on game pass that did manage to make an impression on me; that’s Spiritfarer.
I reviewed the game back at the end of September after finishing it, talking about the story in the game being a deeply personal one, so much so that it felt like the intentional gaps in each character’s story were pieces of information meant for someone closer to the creators of this game to fill with personal information.
Not that I feel like that was the intent of the creators, but after looking up some background on the game’s development, all of the characters within Spiritfarer were based on real people, family members of the developers who had since passed. The game dealt with the character’s different ways of dealing with their own and their loved one’s mortality. These stories did seem so real, so based reality that I couldn’t help but feel like I was someone sat on a train, overhearing one side of a deeply personal conversation someone close to me was having on their phone.
It seems like a strange reaction to have, but it’s really how it made me feel, and how it made me feel unfulfilled and left wanted by the time I had finished it from a narrative point of view. I understand that part of the message of the game is that death does leave people with unanswered questions, but as a constructed narrative, it left me feeling a little hollow and wanting a more concrete resolution.
As mixed as I was on the narrative of the game though, where it didn’t leave me wanting was the gameplay loop of the whole thing. To play Spiritfarer is a nice, easy-going experience. Taking cues from things like Harvest Moon, farming and crafting are the main tasks given to the player. Slowly building up their spirit ferry, adding homes, kitchens, farms and a ton of other workshops all with their own purposes.
The result makes Spiritfarer a nice, slow-paced game where you sail around the ocean, gathering resources and executing some simple platforming while learning new abilities and gaining new ways to make use of your resources to further expand your range of exploration in the world and gain access to even more resources. It might seem a little too slow paced for some people, but at the time I played it, it was the perfect thing I needed to curl up and play something to relax me.
If I had one criticism of the game’s loop, it would be that it does feel like you hit roadblocks every so often, artificial barriers constructed by the narrative while certain characters you’re ferrying on your boat have to “think about something”.
I get the idea of actually trying to make these characters a little more real, in that they do need time to digest and think about the things they need to come to terms with in order to move on. But at times, it ended up holding me back from the aspects of the game I ended up enjoying more; the gameplay loop of creating and exploration.
Spiritfarer is a very nice game. One that you can spend your time within leisurely chunks of time, exploring the sea at your own pace and learning about the kind animal people you pick up along the way. While the story of the game ended up being lost on me by the time it was over, I still appreciate the time I spent with it and have recommended it to several other people since as something to play to unwind.
God knows we’ve needed more of that kind of game this year.
#7: Destiny: Beyond Light
Played on Xbox One X | Released 10th November | Developed by Bungie
Not a year goes by where I don’t talk about Destiny to come extent. While I used to feel guilty about bringing the game up year after year during game of the year discussions, Bungie has evolved the game so much that I really have altered my perceptions of the game and how it itself now presents itself since breaking away from Activation and becoming its own entity. Destiny is a different game than it was three years ago, and it’s much different than it was three years before that.
Destiny is one of the big dogs when it comes to the ongoing service games, akin to a combination of Fortnite and World of Warcraft, Destiny has become a game that just exists in perpetuity now. The seasonal based drip-feed of content means it’s a game you can much more easily came and go from based on how much you’re enjoying the current season of content.
And that really has been my year with Destiny. Because while I have listed Beyond Light as the primary entry in this list, it would be remiss of me to not talk about the content of the game that filled the rest of 2020 before Beyond Light. As 2020 started, we were just a few weeks into the Season of Dawn, which probably my favourite amongst Destiny’s year 2 content.
I spent much of my January and February playing through this season of Destiny. Then I took some time off through Season of the Worthy before coming back for Season of Arrivals. I’ll put my hands up now and say that Destiny is not a game for everyone, and especially now, the game has actually become pretty difficult for new players to approach, considering the original story campaign is now unbailable.
But as someone who has been playing relatively consistently since Destiny 1, seeing the story and lore unfold little by little over the months and years has been a treat for me. I am totally invested in the lore and story of Destiny at this point, and seeing Season of Arrivals as the prelude to Beyond Light feels like a major step forward in the ongoing story of Destiny and it’s narrative of the “Light” vs. the “Darkness”.
Beyond Light, like Shadowkeep and then Forsaken before that is a major annual expansion for the game that adds a new subclass, new locations and serves as a platform to make some major changes to the game from a mechanics and back-end perspective. Namely, Bungie’s choice to sunset a bunch of older locations and equipment from the game for the sake of longevity of the meta and competitiveness of the game.
And immediately seeing faster load times upon installing Beyond Light already makes the changes feel worth it to me. As of the time I’m writing this, I am enjoying playing Destiny a whole lot. As it has always been; it’s an incredibly satisfying shooter to simply run around and shoot guns in, coupled with the double-barrelled load of new content that comes with Beyond Light’s own story being bundled in with the new content that comes with the beginning of the Season of the Hunt makes this the best of time of the year to spend with the game.
I’ll reiterate though, Destiny is one of the drippiest of drip feeders when it comes to content. While I am loving playing it now, in a few months time, when the following season of content begins, there’s a good chance that I might fall off the game a little and take the season off. Which is part of the charm of the game for me. It’s something I can leave and come back to and feel fulfilled by it.
Then again, that’s the nature of the service game in general. It’s a business model that really has become a standard for the industry now and one that had really made me think about how I interact with this top ten list at the end of each year. In 2020, I have spent more time playing service games than I ever did before, and I feel like I’ll do even more of it in 2021.
These kind of games are easier to jump in and out of throughout the year, they’re not really that expensive (from a relative perspective) and they always seem to have something going on that makes you want to come back to them. Games don’t just come out and fade away anymore, they’re constantly getting updates, content drops and events happening to them. It makes me wonder how many more Destiny’s I’ll get in my life before that’s all this list ends up being. Because as I get older and have less money to spend on games, these kinds of experiences are the ones I seem to be valuing more and more.
The only reason this didn’t place higher is because there was a 7-8 month period where I hardly touched it. And that doesn’t really make it seem like I’m grading these on a fair metric, considering that’s still way more time put into this game than most other entries on this list. Oh well, I did say these were pretty arbitrary, didn’t I?
#6: Streets of Rage 4
Played on Xbox One X | Released 30th April | Developed by Dotemu, LizardCube & Guard Crush Games
I grew up playing the ever-loving crap out of the first two Streets of Rage games on my Sega Mega Drive. Being in the U.K. like I am, so that’s what I call it. The very idea of another, belated sequel to a retro classic of my childhood all these years later was both an exciting and a worrying prospect. There have been so many other examples of games in this same exact genre coming back after year and being massive let-downs.
But then there have been success stories too, especially with games from Sega.
Given it’s placement on this list, it should be obvious that Streets of Rage 4 isn’t a let-down. I reviewed the game back in May and you can read that review here. Just as you’d want from a game like this, Streets of Rage 4 is both reverent to the series where it came from, while also being vert palatable to modern audiences.
This 4th game takes the approach to keep things as close to the original experience as possible while adding a few little changes to both modernise and streamline the experience for players. Now with the option of playing co-op with four players, we’re given the choice between the returning characters of Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding, accompanied by Flyod and Cherry, characters who both have connections to characters from previous games.
And for the most part, it plays almost exactly as you remember from previous entries in the series. The changes are subtle, but welcome. For example, while special moves still drain your health, that health is not actually gone. Landing hits on enemies before they can damage you will restore the spent health, making using special moves a more risk/reward choice rather than a simple sacrificial move.
Also, each character has a super move, which they spend stars on to use. Much like the police backup from the first game. Only now, they’re unique to the character. Finally, with the ability to have up to four players at once, there is an ability to bounce enemies off of walls and other players to perform air juggles.
While I know nothing about fighting games, this kind of approach to beat ’em ups seems to be increasingly common. As the two genres have always been a least loosely intertwined. Fighting game mechanics from much loved games coming into these types of games add some great depth to the combat for people who want to dig that deeply into it, but also opens the game up more to the fighting game community. So it’s wins all around.
As for the narrative of the game itself; it’s exactly what you want it to be for this kind of game: inoffensive and easy to ignore. While there is more of a focus on the narrative than there has ever before in the franchise, it’s not why you come to game like this. You just want to get in, beat up waves of enemies and not have to think about it.
Which really is where the game shines, not in the beating up of enemies (although that is a part of it) but in how much reverence it holds for the original games. Not only is the game packed with nods and references to the older games, it has a retro-style second soundtrack as a selectable option in the options and the ability to unlock every other iteration and playable character from the older games.
Who look and play exactly as they did back in their original release. It all ties up into a great modern title that manages to pack itself with so much nostalgia that it almost demands any fan of the genre to give it a look.
Like I said at the top of the post, Streets of Rage 4 has been a game I have constantly found myself revisiting over the course of the year, playing a few stages here and there. It was the exact same thing with Sonic Mania a few years ago. It’s a great, easy to pick up and play for a half an hour experience, as well as being a great social experience for me and my brother and cousin who played a lot of this game growing up.
Is this a mostly nostalgically driven pick? Sure, but it’s also a good enough game in its own right that anyone who likes a good beat ’em up should seek it out, from what I’ve heard its far from the worst one to come out this year.
#5: Pokémon Sword/Shield: The Isle of Armor
Played on Nintendo Switch | Released 17th June | Developed by Game Freak
Originally, I had intended to make this entry encompass both of the expansions to Pokémon Sword and Shield. But while looking back what Crown Tundra provided us, especially in comparison to the Isle of Armour, I couldn’t in all good conscious celebrate that piece of content for how horribly devoid of enjoyment that thing was. Something I talked about in this post right here.
Isle of Armor on the other hand feels like the missing piece of the puzzle that was holding particular aspects of the original game back. I could make a career about dumping on the Pokémon franchise and how it feels like its actively trying to self-sabotage at times. It might seem weird to be praising a piece of content that arguably should have been in the game in the first place, but I want to try and keep thing in the tone of celebration for this post.
So, to grasp at the positives, I’m going to talk about how Isle of Armor made me enjoy the Pokémon franchise the most I’ve done since playing X & Y seven years ago. (Seven years? Christ…)
When Sword and Shield came out, I had very mixed feelings about it. There were aspects to it I loved, while I felt other parts came out half baked, as if there were a bunch of mechanics and ease of use decisions that didn’t make sense to me. Isle of Armor rectifies almost all of those issues, at least in terms of my mechanics issues with the game, and doubling down on the aspects of the game I most got something out of.
A first for the franchise, Isle of Armor is the first piece of post-release content for a mainline Pokémon game. What used to be a new version of the game, or a sequel to it, now gave us updates and new content to play after finishing the main game itself. This first taking players to the titular Isle of Armor, a very un-British location inspired by mountainous dojos and hidden martial artists.
The player finds themselves roped into the training of an eccentric former league champion as he trains a legion of students in the ways Pokémon battling, through the form of martial arts training. The journey introducing the player to new legendary Pokémon Kubfu, and building up the partnership between it and the player, eventually picking one of two evolution paths for the little bear, then going on to unlocking its unique Gigantamax form.
Through this story, the player is introduced to the Max Soup item. Something that rectifies one of my major problems I had with the original release of the game, and allows players to unlock a Pokémon’s unique Gigantamax form with their existing, trained Pokémon. Where as before we just had to hope we found on in a max raid battle and then train that one. Throwing away the Pokémon we’d painstakingly trained from an egg or during our initial playthrough.
It was through the necessity of participating in Max Raid Battles to spawn the mushrooms needed to make the soup that I actually started to gain an appreciation for the Max Raid battle mechanic in itself. I wasn’t too hot on the option in the base game, despite the significant reward it provided. Being able to turn my EV trained Cinderace or my Appletun into their alternate jumbo forms was enough for me glomp onto Max Raid battles and finally appreciate them.
In addition, the DLC itself provided a ton of new, long form tasks to perform, including upgrading the dojo, catching the newly returning Pokémon in the expansion and playing around with the new moves and hidden diglett that litter the island. Ever since Platinum, I’ve felt that the Pokemon franchise has had a real lack of end game content for people like me who don’t care to involve themselves in the online competitive scene.
This has felt like the best big of end game content since we got a battle frontier to play in, despite the fact that, while there is a ton to do in this world now, not a whole lot of it is actually based around battling. That being said, I invested more time into Isle of Armor than I think I did from playing main game itself upon release. Like I said, it’s the most I got back into a Pokémon game in years.
It’s just too bad that Crown Tundra felt so disappointing by comparison. I really do feel like the Pokémon has become too big for its own good, at least when it comes to the video games. The mainline games have found themselves on such a tight schedule that it prevents Game Freak from being able to reach too far and do anything too different than we’re used to. And from a personal standpoint, that’s slowly making me fall out of love with the franchise.
I really think Game Freak need a break, akin to what Ubisoft took with Assassin’s Creed: Origins. Some time to really think about he franchise and come up with a new unique take for it. Because for as much as I enjoyed my time with Isle of Armour, it was only in the context of it being a Pokémon game that was a much better experience than the base game and not really having an alternative without blowing the dust off one of my older handheld devices.
While Isle of Armor plucked out all of the best aspects of sword and shield and built upon them, it felt like too little too late. It’s hard for me not to be hard on the franchise given how much love and time I have invented into it over the past two decades, but when they get it close to being right, they make something like this that can engross me for hour and hours. Imagine what they could do if they were just taken off the leash.
#4: Apex Legends (Seasons 4-7)
Played on Xbox One x | Released in 2019 (oops) | Developed by Respawn Entertainment
I already spoke about the fact that I’d been wooed under the spell of the Battle Royale genre in my entry about Warzone. And then I went on to speak about how I’m going to have to start considering service games with a lot more seriousness when it comes to deciding my favourite games of the year during the Destiny entry. They’re a well-established part of the industry now and not going away.
Apex Legends is the combination of both of those factors coming together to be the older game I found myself continuously playing for almost all of 2020. Apex is a game that has constantly seen itself getting updates, new content and seasonal events throughout the course of the year. Almost like watching a television series, each season has it’s own narrative inside and outside of the lore of the game, and keeping up with all of that is half of all the fun.
Way back at the start of the year I spoke about how Respawn were doing a fantastic job in promoting and building up their upcoming season. Which, at the time was its 4th. Using the game’s own setting as a televised form of entertainment, the marketing around the game was building up the new, upcoming character; Forge. Mixing the in-world and real world promotional material for him into something of a celebrity event.
Only for them to suddenly go and murder him during a promotional interview for the game. While the bait and switch that introduced Revenant as the true new legend being brought into the game weren’t much of a surprise to some, I fell for the move entirely and found it super exciting. So much so that I played the hell out of the game the entire season and maxed out the season pass. Which is something I rarely find myself doing.
Respawn have done a fantastic job of building this game up both inside and out. Seasons five and six were a little more low key in their promotion and additions to the game. Adding two new Legends, one new weapon, altering the two existing maps and also adding a crafting mechanic that allows players to build certain weapon loadouts more easily on a daily rotation.
Looking back at the notes for things Respawn did during each season, it’s positive to see that they’re willing to try new things, experiment with their own game and constantly work to keep it fresh. When you’ve got the cross-marketing colossus that is Fortnite as one of your primary competitors and the booming growth of Warzone creeping up on your too, it’s nice to know that Apex is a game that isn’t afraid to through plans out of the window and experiment.
Which is part of the reason I’ve been keeping up with it for so long. Every season feels distinct from the last in meaningful ways. It’s not just new characters and some map changes here and there. The introduction of evo-shields through an in-game event, the introduction of crafting and major rebalancing of weapons by swapping them in and out of care packages all show Respawn are making positive growth for the game and not just allowing it to tick over.
As we’re now some weeks into season 7, which has given us a new map (which I love) and vehicles, I’m finding I’m playing the game more than ever, maybe more than I did back in season 4. My one criticism of the game really is how damned expensive it is. I shouldn’t complain about totally optional cosmetics in a free to play the game, but I am invested enough in the game that there are times where I would like to throw some money Respawn’s way to support them.
But even during my weakest moment of consumer self control, I simply can’t justify spending the money Respawn are charging for these character and weapon skins, especially the more limited ones during seasonal events. Sorry guys, it’s just too rich for my tastes.
Apex came very close to being my favourite game of 2019, and my estimation of it has only grown in 2020. The only reason it probably doesn’t place higher is because I’d feel like a right copout by placing an older game any higher in this list. But like I said, there are an increasing amount of service games in my life and eventually, I’m going to have to decide whether I ever need to spend £60 -£70 on a new game again when games like Apex and Destiny are keeping me more than happy over the course of the year.
#3: Yakuza: Like a Dragon
Played on Xbox One X | Released 10th November | Developed by Ryu Gotoku Studio & Sega
I knew with a certainty that, if I ever managed to break through that difficult barrier to entry, I would love the Yakuza series. During its build-up, Yakuza: Like a Dragon appeared to be the perfect jumping-on point for someone like me who wanted so badly to play these games, but simply kept bouncing off every time they tried to get into the (admittedly dated) Yakuza Zero at this point.
From my understanding, Like a Dragon is a very typical example of the franchise in many ways, while being especially atypical in a lot of others. The game has a familiar setting, tone and style of storytelling while essentially rebooting the franchise by giving us an entirely new lead character. And even more than that giving us a totally new gameplay style.
As the title would suggest; the game is set in the seedy criminal element of Japan, focusing on organised crime and the world some of the more upstanding people in society would rather pretend didn’t exist. As the title also suggests, the game is paying a lot of homage the Dragon Quest video game franchise, and it’s not shy about broadcasting that fact whenever it gets the opportunity.
Our main character, Ichigo Kasuga talks about how much he loves the franchise on several occasions and talks about how the game inspires him to want to be a hero before he was ever a Yakuza.
As the story within the game plays out, the characters around him playfully lean into Kasuga’s obsession with the game and start using video game logic and terms and applying them to real-world situations. Something that cutely plays into the fact that his game functions using those very mechanics, but also help Kasuga’s delusions increase, altering the state of the world around the player during combat.
It’s the Arthur Boyle approach to being a badass; the more delusional and nuts you are, the better you’re able to kick the ass of any bizarre character who thinks it’s a good idea to come at you. I wonder if I’m the first person to make that analogy while talking bout this game…
The game takes a while to get going, slowly introducing the game’s RPG mechanics to player little by little while also introducing us to the main characters and the state of the world they inhabit. It’s a pretty drawn-out prologue, but it’s so cinematic and filled with well voice acted and fantastically rendered cut scenes that I was pretty content to lay the controller down and watch this like it was a tv show.
While I enjoyed it, I could very easily see some people getting put off by the fact that the game really doesn’t get going in earnest until several hours in. Being one thing for a long time before switching gears and leaning into the tongue in cheek JRPG mechanics of the game, as well as the ton of mini-games and side quests that add even more diversity to what you find yourself doing throughout the hours you’ll be spending with this game.
I’ve been playing this game a lot these past few weeks, but am only at chapter six. While the cinematic scenes have started to show up less and less in favour of text bubbles and dead-eyed character staring off into the middle distance while they talk to you, at this point the game has well and truly sold me on it’s utterly weird and wonderful world and totally endeared me to the cast of characters that inhabit it.
This might sound familiar to those who are more versed in the franchise than I am as a newcomer, but the fact that the game focuses on the aspects of society that many would deep seedy or undesirable and gives almost everyone in there a big heart gives it this unique approach to its stories that I can’t help but be fascinated. While everyone in this town are very rough around the edges, they mostly all care for one another in a way that’s so much more refreshing than the overly cynical approach a game like GTA has to its storytelling and character work.
I’m enjoying my time with this game greatly, and the choice to switch over to a turn-based JRPG style combat is working for me so much more than I can imagine a old style brawler could hope to. The fact that it mixes real-world jobs with classic RPG class archetypes is funny and super charming to me. With “homeless man” being an analogue to a mage and “Idol” being the cleric makes actually figuring out what the classes even are part of the fun.
Despite feeling like I’m not even half way through the game’s story at this point, I am totally in deep and invested in everything that is going on in Yakuza: Like A Dragon. Feeling all the more happy about the fact that my assuredness that I would love this franchise, had I only found my avenue into it bore some fruit. And here’s to hoping that after I Finish this one, I can go back and delve into the older examples of the franchise and catch up on what I missed out on.
#2: Animal Crossing: New Horizon
Played on Nintendo Switch | Released 20th March | Developed by Nintendo EPD
I’d never played any kind of Animal Crossing game prior to New Horizon. I knew of them as some game that “casual” players took an obsessive approach to, contradictory to their status as casuals would imply. So of course, when I finally would pick up and try an Animal Crossing game for myself, it’s only natural that I would fall into a deep obsessive hole with it.
In a lot of ways, Animal Crossing: New Horizons was a perfectly timed game. Coming out in March during the early stages of the COVID pandemic, it was the perfect piece of escapism for those of us who wanted to stay inside and avoid spreading the virus as much as possible. Although that hasn’t stopped this game being something of a contentious release amongst the old school fans of the franchise.
But I couldn’t possibly know about any of that seeing as how this is my first time with the franchise, and honestly, I loved every minute of it. New Horizons is a warm, friendly and wholesome experience in which you take up residence on a small island before slowly populating the island with animals from the huge pool of characters available and slowly customising the island into you own perfect paradise.
What really sold me on this game before I picked it up was seeing the people online time travelling to gain access to the real span of the mechanics in the game. While things start off relatively simple, using items and flowers to decorate the world, eventually you get access to terraforming and painting with custom designs you either make yourself or steal from people online.
The level of customisation within the game makes it so your island can eventually become whatever you want to be, be it some complex recreation of a video game, a visual trick of perspective or a simple cosy island town for you and anyone else who comes to spend time on your island.
In many ways, Animal Crossing seems like the proto-service game. Something designed to be played in perpetuity, with new content coming into the game as seasons change and real-world holidays come and go. The only with this game being that an actual online element has made it so Nintendo can force players to play the game during the events rather than simply manipulating the game’s clock.
I’m not going to bother taking a stance on this issue now, as it feels really pointless to do so this many months after the game came out. However, personally having played the game on its own terms has meant that I’ve consistently found myself playing the game on and off since March. I’m not sure there has been an entire week go by where I haven’t loaded the game up for an hour or so after I ran out of progression to make in the core experience.
Even had there not been Halloween events and Christmas events to change the look of my island entirely for their duration, going back to tidy up, reacquaint myself with my villagers or renovating parts with new seasonal decorations has been something to soothe and make me feel all warm and cosy even now after the game has been out for so long.
If I did have to direct one criticism towards the game, it’s how stingy it can be with certain bits of advancement. Anyone who plays the game knows how frustratingly infrequently Redd shows up to sell that art for the museum. On top of that, within the game’s newly introduced crafting system, I have a ton of recipes I can’t make because I don’t have the recipes to make a component part to it. Even months and months later.
The problem is compounded during these limited-time events. I wanted to decorate my island for Christmas, but despite playing day after day, the game didn’t give me any of the newly introduced Christmas themed recipes. To the point where if I were eventually going to get one, it’d be too late to even bother using them.
There are minor issues in the grand scheme of things though. On the whole, I have loved my time with Animal Crossing New Horizons. It was something I would have probably picked up regardless, but having it be one of those shared experience game for everyone during a period of the year where we were all stuck inside and unable to do things like meet friends, go shopping or hardly go outside at all.
More than being a fun, cute experience. I feel like Animal Crossing was an important game for 2020. For a lot of people’s mental health and giving us some kind of connection to one another during a very difficult year for so many different reasons. I do feel like I’m on the wind down for Animal Crossing at this point, but depending on how long Nintendo continue to support it and add new content, it might be a game that keeps my attention well into 2021 too.
#1: Final Fantasy VII Remake
Played on PlayStation 4 | Released 10th April | Developed by Square Enix
The Final Fantasy VII Remake is an astounding piece of video game. The pure excessive detail to which the developers take the first few hours of the original PS1 game and expand it out into this massive, complex and stunningly beautiful cinematic experience is a true accomplishment in my eyes.
As someone who has only a passing knowledge and respect for the original FFVII, I wasn’t too invested in seeing this game ever come out. In fact, I had become content to just let it continue to be the punchline that was yet another Square Enix game that would never see the light of day.
I don’t actually remember what possessed me to pick the game up despite my mocking comments of the game prior to release, but as soon as I started playing it I realised I was onto something special. Despite only playing this on a basic PS4, this was a stunningly rendered video game. The worlds, the characters and the storytelling throughout was gripping.
As I spoke about in my initial review of the game after finishing it, the is a level of excess to every part of this game’s development that shows not just how much love went into this game on the part of the people making it, but also that there was this real desire to make this game as grandiose and important as the original ended up being to those of us who grew up during the 90s.
It might be because I’m not super precious about this game and its characters that I might have enjoyed what this game did to not only expand its own lore, but to twist it into something beyond what the original story was telling. During the early parts of the game, there are obviously multiple plot elements, character backstories and action sequences that never existed in the original game.
To begin with these seemed like they might be nothing more than simple padding, there to bloat out the length of what was a pretty short and sharp story. The thing is, the game does such a great job of making these simple characters in the original, into more complex and likeable characters you want to spend time with that I didn’t bother me. I was so charmed by these characters and their utter insistence of hanging around Cloud despite his tsundere attitude that I didn’t notice the subtle changes the game was making.
Until they started becoming less subtle. It’s a point I talked about after finishing the game, that this remake of Final Fantasy might not be a straight remake of the game at all. Instead it was an alternate story taking place within the same universe. With so many things changing that a literal manifestation of continuity showing up be an active antagonist in the game.
Which means that by the end, characters who previously died had now survived, events played out not how they were supposed to play out and there was an implication as to whether the famous scene of Sephiroth killing Aerith might ever happen at all.
In the end, I did adore this game. While it’s setting might seem pretty self serious and a tad too gritty in the beginning, it eventually goes down the route of peak silliness that only a Japanese game could manage. By the time I’d arrived at Wall Market, I realised that this game was going to appear somewhere near the top of my game of the year list. As that’s the setting of some of the best segments of the game.
Between the game’s look, the ridiculous impressive soundtrack, the amazingly revamped combat and the changes they made to the established formula, I never, ever expected to love this game as much as I did. So much so that I went back and played Final Fantasy XIII again, which was probably a mistake. I have no idea when or even if another part of this game is every going to come out. In many ways it seems like it ends on a perfect open ending which could very simply leave itself up to the player’s interpretation of possible consciences.
There were a lot of games I didn’t play in 2020. Final Fantasy VII remake is one I am very glad I did get my hands on when I did.