2021 was more of 2020: Act II than most of us want to admit but hey, what other reason do I need to sit around and play video games all year besides the fact that every time I look out my window that whatever small part of the faith I had in humanity dies a little bit more. This year, I’m deciding to do a top 10 games list because I didn’t subject myself to playing enough bad games to make a top 5 worst list so I’m being extra positive this year, cherish it. Like always, the rules are no remasters, remakes, ports or rereleases, only new games that came out in 2021 that I actually played. Without further ado, here’s my top 10 games of 2021.
10. Persona 5 Strikers-
Normally I wouldn’t put a Mousou style game on this list, but Persona 5 Strikers is one of the best Dynasty Warriors style games to date. It takes elements from the original Persona 5 like the demon fusion and combat spells and mixes it with the standard Dynasty Warriors gameplay. But the gameplay isn’t really what made me like this game, most Dynasty Warriors games’ gameplay gets boring about 5 minutes in when you inevitably find that one combo that completely breaks the combat. What really made me enjoy this title was the fact that the story was well written. Persona 5 is one of my favorite JRPGs ever and the game’s cast are some of my favorites in any video game, so it was just fun to spend more time with these characters. Overall, the gameplay of Persona 5 Strikers solid, and along with the great story and musical remixes make this one of my favorite games of the year.
9. Guilty Gear Strive-
Fighters are another type of game that generally won’t show up on my lists, but Guilty Gear Strive captured my interest in a way that very few in the genre do. Doing combos in Guilty Gear Strive doesn’t just feel good, it looks and sounds good. Strive is one of the flashiest and most energetic fighting games I’ve played to date. Guilty Gear has always been known as a franchise where you need to have a quadruple digit IQ to play optimally, but Strive finds a great balance between being accessible enough that people like me who don’t have the patience to learn 500 combos can still have a good time, while also being deep enough that you can really dive into it if you want to. What I love most about Strive is the soundtrack though, with every theme song being a fucking banger. Plus, one of the characters is a cute Russian girl with a scarf so she was destined to be my main. It definitely has some noticeable flaws, but I kept coming back to Strive over and over this year.
8. No More Heroes 3-
I was hoping for years that this trilogy would be completed and finally, Suda 51 returns to conclude it. The gameplay is the best it’s ever been but that’s not really why I’m here. I’m here for the Avant Garde shit like a boss that revolves around playing musical chairs or a robot made of pure gold that thinks fireworks are magic. There’s a stream of consciousness to Suda’s work that I’ve really loved ever since Killer 7. This is the sendoff I wanted for these characters and I really like the development they gave to side cast. No More Heroes 3 is one of my favorite Switch games to date, and one of the best games in the franchise.
7. Shin Megami Tensei V-
Full disclosure, this game is really long and I haven’t actually finished it yet, so I won’t put it higher, but I think from what I’ve played it absolutely deserves to be on this list when all is said and done. This year was really great for turn-based JRPGs and SMT V might be the crown jewel. While it doesn’t have the story or characters of its spinoff Persona, it makes up for it by having deep gameplay systems. The demon fusion mechanic is really great and a lot of the game’s best writing comes into play when interacting with the demons and trying to get them to join you. Shin Megami Tensei V shows that the franchise is so much more than just “That game that Persona is based on.”
6. Psychonauts 2-
Another game that feels like it would never get released, Psychonauts 2 finally came out 16 years after the cult classic original and it lived up to every expectation I had of it. There’s a clever meta narrative here about old timers in an industry trying to connect with a new audience of younger people that really works well within the context of the franchise. The writing here is super fun and charming, to the point I was actually more excited for the cutscenes than the gameplay. The worst (and best) thing I can say about the gameplay is that it’s just more of the same from the original, which I enjoy. The unique art style and great voice acting are just the cherry on top of what is a witty and nostalgic platformer that I’m so happy that finally got to see the light of day.
5. Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart
Ratchet and Clank is the ultimate jack of all trades, master of none franchise. It always delivers fun platforming, great action, puzzles and entertaining characters and writing in equal measure. This is the first PS5 game I’ve played and it seriously blew me away visually. The rift gimmick is such a great way to show off the lack of loading times on the PS5 and gives you a demonstration of the new tech without feeling like a tech demo. A Ratchet and Clank game is only as good as the roster of wacky weapons it has and this game has one of the best collections of weapons in the franchise. A new Ratchet and Clank game is always a welcome bit of nostalgia and carefree fun for me, and Rift Apart is one of the best entries in the long running series.
4. Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights
What a beautiful game Ender Lilies is. There are so many spiritual successors to Dark Souls at this point that it’s going to be a fucking bloodbath when the inheritance comes up at the funeral, but so few games are able to capture that quiet, ruined beauty the way that Ender Lilies does. It’s also a fairly faithful adaptation of Dark Souls gameplay in 2D, especially the bosses. The game is drop dead gorgeous with a stunning hand-drawn art style and a beautiful soundtrack to match it. Comparing it to Dark Souls or Hollow Knight is downplaying Ender Lilies as its own game though, as it has more in common with Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow than either of those two games. Any title that invokes Dark Souls and Hollow Knight with Aria of Sorrow filing in the spaces is a great game in my book.
This is one of the most surprising and shocking games I’ve played in years. I went in expecting it to be a standard card game with rogue-like elements, but it’s so much more than that. The basic gameplay of the card game is simple but fun, and the rogue-like elements add a sense of randomness to it that keeps things interesting. What I was not expecting was some of the other things that were added into this game as my run went on. I really don’t want to ruin the surprise of the game because going into it with absolutely no knowledge of what you’re to expect is what makes the game so unique and exciting. Let me just say that it’s not just a card game and there are a ton of twists and turns along the way with some added gameplay and story elements that actually complements the core card game mechanics insanely well. This game came out of nowhere and made it near the top of my list this year.
2. Bravely Default II:
Call me a boomer, call me old school, whatever you wish. A classic turn-based JRPG with a job system is my happy place when it comes to gaming. It’s the big comfy chair with my favorite blanket and a hot cup of cocoa that I can relax with like slipping into a nice, nostalgic warm bubble bath. Bravely Default II might be the best turn-based JRPG that Square has released in a decade. The job system is refined to perfection from the other games in the franchise; mixing and matching job combinations to fit your playstyle is some of the most fun I’ve had in an RPG in years. While the story and characters aren’t the greatest, the game makes up for it by having really in-depth gameplay systems. Jobs that I normally wouldn’t bother with like the Blue Mage and the bard were made into really fun and useful classes, and that’s not even counting the creative new classes like the Pictomancer which is basically the painting equivalent of a bard that buffs your party and debuffs the enemy with elemental magic. I played this game for 65 hours, but it honestly felt like it flew by as if it were 20 hours, and that’s the sign of a great RPG.
1. Metroid Dread-
It was a tough year to pick a game of the year. There were a lot of great games but none that really stood out as a defacto best game of the year. In the end, I went with the game I had the most fun playing, which is ultimately the best metric, right? It’s been over a decade now since we got a proper new Metroid game that wasn’t a remake or spin-off, and Mercury Steam delivered one of the best games in the entire franchise with Dread. They really learned from the mistakes they made with the solid, but not spectacular remake of Metroid II and refined the gameplay perfectly. The flow of the movement and combat is so fluid and satisfying, they really nailed the moment-to-moment gameplay stuff, and the atmosphere, especially the sound design was top notch. The EMMI’s were divisive, but I think they were a great addition and really add to the feeling of isolation that Metroid strives for. My favorite part of the game though was how they were able to show that Samus as a character was a complete badass that isn’t afraid of any challenge without even needing to have her talk. The ending was an epic and fitting conclusion to 30 years of the Metroid storyline and I can’t wait to see what the next saga entails. All of these elements made Metroid Dread my 2021 Game of the Year.