10. Call of The Sea
I didn’t expect to have a last-minute contender on my list, but here we are. Call of the Sea by Out of The Blue is much more than a very coincidental studio name. It’s a sharply focused adventure game similar to Myst and the games of yore.
While focusing much more on its narrative, which features Norah Everhart searching for her husband on an island near Tahiti and the mystery that unravels to his crew, Call of the Sea is an easy recommendation.
A vibrant world and enticing mystery interspersed with witty inner monologues and thoughtful puzzles make Call of the Sea an easy number 10 on my list and a game I don’t think anyone should skip this year.
Sometimes a game comes along and just charms the hell out of you. That was Bugsnax for me; while I don’t think the gameplay is stellar, I found myself constantly exploring every nook and cranny of Snaktooth Island, leaving no stone unturned.
Uncovering the mystery of the disappearance of Elizabert Megafig and the fall of Snaxsburg was a welcomed distraction from the world around me. The Bugsnax themselves were cute and creative in a way old school Pokemon felt like interesting takes on real-world animals.
The game also has one of my favorite endings of the year and is honestly a big part of why it makes this list. If you haven’t checked out Bugsnax by developer Young Horses, I recommend it.
This year has been challenging for a lot of people, and it doesn’t look like 2021 is shaping up to be much better. However, one thing that did come out of all of this was Blaseball, and while I would prefer if all of this never happened, Blaseball is a pretty good consolation prize.
Blaseball is a difficult game to explain, because well, it’s constantly changing. One day it’s a simple baseball simulator the next, it’s a JRPG inspired battle against the squid god. It’s entirely free and played through Blaseball.com.
You pick a favorite team, bet on simulated games with in-game currency, and keep your fingers crossed your favorite player doesn’t get incinerated by the umpire.
At the end of the day, it’s just white text on a black screen. Yet, somehow, it’s fostered a fanbase of passionate and inspiring individuals who have carved out their own area of internet culture. It’s fascinating, welcoming, confusing, and above all else, a welcomed distraction to the world it was forged in.
All I can really say on this one is check it out for yourself and remember to tell the commissioner they are doing a great job.
7. Umurangi Generation
Umurangi Generation exudes style in its marriage of art and music. Tasked with delivering parcels of photographs for the Tauranga Express, you take pictures using different lenses and equipment from a checklist of objectives from politically charged graffiti to alleyway cats.
It’s a game that doesn’t get in its own way. It drops you into the game and says “go”, explore this crummy world and discover it through the lens of your camera. Umurangi’s environments do all of the heavy lifting. Blinking neon lights and newspapers litter the streets, giant concrete walls keep the people inside safe, but the game never takes control away to try and tell its story.
You learn as much or as little as you want through your own exploration of the space. There’s something much deeper going on in the world of Umurangi; you’re not there to save the world or stop any impending doom, you’re there to do your job, and the game knows that.
6. Ori and the Will of the Wisps
I wasn’t a huge fan of Ori and the Blind Forest when it came out a few years ago, but I wanted to give Ori and the Will of the Wisps a fair shake when it came out this year. Well, that turned into two days of non-stop playing until I saw the ending credits.
Something about the new mechanics and the music just hooked me and didn’t let go until it was over and I needed a good cry.
If you’re a fan of Metroidvania games with hand-drawn environment art and a somber soundtrack Ori is the game for you. Gareth Coker knocks the soundtrack out of the park, and the team at Moon Studios did a phenomenal job at making the gameplay snappy, the character art both charming and menacing and the overall vibe of Ori one of underlying sadness.
5. Monster Train
This was a killer year for Roguelikes, and Monster Train by developer Shiny Shoe stands among the best of them. Pick a faction leader and group of monsters to assist you and defend a train as it barrels towards the center of the world. Each stop on the train will either net you new cards, new spells, an upgrade for your faction leader, or a fight.
Your train has three tiers and the placement of your cards is key, you don’t wanna pile up all of your monsters on the bottom floor, because then there’s nothing defending the top and vice-versa.
Losing in Monster Train is never one wrong decision; it’s a slow death of a thousand cuts. It’s what makes each run unique; outside of the pairing of Monsters and a leader, the choices you make along the way really dictate how you will fare in the end.
4. Persona 5 Royal
Now I know what you’re thinking, and no it’s not just a small re-release with quality of life updates. Persona 5 Royal is the definitive version of Persona 5. It adds a third semester, new confidants, and yes, quality of life updates like faster social link leveling, and some new flashy combat moves like Showtimes.
The new content in Royal is both heartwrenching and heartwarming because it further showcases how people in power continually abuse it for personal gain and how that trickles down to affect everyone. The counselor Maruki and new student Kasumi Yoshizawa bolster an already stacked roster of some of my favorite characters in the medium.
Not to mention the new additions to the soundtrack like the track “Throw Away Your Mask” are used in pivotal moments to take familiar scenes and completely flip them on their head.
Persona 5 Royal has a lot to say about society, how we engage with each other, and how it’s ok to rely on your friends.
So play Persona 5 Royal, take your time, and don’t sleep through dreams that can’t come true.
3. Final Fantasy VII Remake
Easily one of the most high-profile releases of the year, Final Fantasy VII Remake has been years in development, and it shows. It was an almost impossible task to take this beloved PlayStation JRPG and bring it to the modern-day, but Square Enix figured it out.
A totally revamped combat system, additional story beats, and an exceptional cast of characters like Tifa Lockhart, Biggs, Wedge, and Barrett all help pull the players into the world. Sure, the game stumbles at times (like those damn robot arm puzzles), but it barely detracts from the atrocities going on inside of Midgar.
While this is only part one of the story, it still tells a captivating tale of a ragtag group of friends taking on the Shinra corporation trying to release its iron foot that’s clamped down on the people of Midgar’s neck.
Shinra is draining the world of its most precious natural resource, Mako energy, and using it for monetary gain and power and political supremacy. It’s a story arguably more relevant now than back in 1997 when it was first told.
I’ll happily follow these characters into the great unknown.
2. Yakuza: Like A Dragon
Yakuza took a big risk this time around. Instead of the action-heavy brawler combat of Kazuma Kiryu, the series’ main protagonist for seven games, the team decided that the game will also now switch to a turn-based combat system alongside a new protagonist.
Ichiban Kasuga, a former Yakuza member, takes the fall for a crime he didn’t commit to appease the higher-ups of his family. When he is released from prison almost 20 years later the world has changed quite a bit.
Now having to learn a new way of life outside the family, Ichiban becomes embroiled in a political power struggle between warring Yakuza and mafia factions. He makes many new friends along the way and refuses to give up until the people and the city he loves are protected from these new and emerging powers.
Yakuza: Like A Dragon takes what fans love from the original combat system and implements it into the turn-based style in incredibly innovative ways. The job system helps bring back old styles like Goro Majima’s “breaker” style from Yakuza 0.
This year has been full of excellent games, but few games have stuck with me the way Yakuza: Like A Dragon has. Even if you’re not a fan of the series, there’s never been a better time to hop into the series.
From the moment I played the Early Access version of Hades in 2018, I knew when it came out officially, it would be in high contention for my game of the year. Fast forward to 2020, and it is my number one with a bullet. The amount of craftsmanship, love, and polish that go into every facet of this game is astounding.
Zagreus, the son of Hades, is trying to escape the Underworld after learning about his mother Persephone, who is living in the outside world. Wanting nothing but to reunite with her, Zagreus fights his way through the layers of the Underworld. It’s an incredibly clever framing for a roguelike game and one that feeds you bits of the story along the way.
Supergiant Games have found a way to bring their story to a genre that often disregards the story for gameplay and makes it a focal point. Engaging with characters like Achilles, or the nervous maid Dusa help contextualize everything around you.
It furthers the notion that despite the Underworld being the land of the dead, it’s very much alive.
The combat is frenetic, using a bevy of different weapons and mixing and matching them with different powers from the Gods, who are helping aid your escape. Each run is vastly different from the last, and the sense of progression in both player skill and abilities is only rivaled by something like Dead Cells.
Also, the gods are hot, let us romance all of them.