The Nesta’s Games of The Year 2020 Edition

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Thanks again, as always to my wife Zara for making the banner image as always. Source for the images used in the banner in order from left to right: Hijiyama(I think this is official art for the 1st year anniversary??), Tifa, Ichiban, Djeeta & Belial, Jin, My Nioh 2 OC (it’s a screenshot), and Zagreus.

Introduction

Is 2020 over yet? Almost.

These last 11 months have felt like a significant portion of my life has gone by. Do you remember back in January before the global pandemic COVID-19 turned our world upside down? Do you remember before Nintendo decided to start putting expiration dates on some of their games? Do you remember back when we still didn’t know much about the new consoles? Do you remember what it was like to imagine you could actually manage to secure, let alone afford to purchase one of those consoles? Do you remember a time before VTubers…?

Those are all trick questions of course. None of us remember any of that shit at this point. All we can remember is what a burning pile of garbage 2020 has been for most if not all of us. I even have my fair share of personal horror stories to go into, but I’ll save that for a different post.

On the bright side of things, even though it took a good half of the year — we finally managed to get quite a few awesome games in our hands this year. It wasn’t easy for anyone, be it developer, or consumer. But I’ve still managed to put together yet another Top 10 games of the year list for you all to read again.

Which is saying something, considering I wasn’t even sure if I was going to go beyond a Top 5 list this year, but like I said, the second half of the year came through in the clutch.

So for any newcomers, Hey, I’m Joel. Thanks for checking out my list. I have a habit of writing entirely too many words when I sit down to write. As you can see if you check out some of my past GOTY lists that Medium suggests will take upwards of 2 hours to sit down and read, yeah.

However, for the first time in a long time, I think I’ll actually be able to stick to my goal of writing a shorter list. It will still be longer than most of the ones you can find online, but I’m coming at this with a renewed focus after I got burnt out so hard last year.

So without further adieu, let the list begin!

10. Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Oh hey, remember a time before Animal Crossing: New Horizons came out? Don’t be silly, of course you don’t remember that either.

Animal Crossing was already a mega successful franchise in Nintendo’s pocket even before a year when a new mainline entry in the series came out at the exact moment a global pandemic hit and people started having to live indoors all the time.

I was a fan of the original Gamecube game when we finally got Animal Forest over here in the west. It was a quirky simulation game that scratched a similar itch as games like The Sims had around that same time.

Many years later I would introduce my wife to the series with New Leaf on the 3DS, and she quickly became completely obsessed with it from that point on. I’m the type of Animal Crossing player that likes to check in on new games in the series, but quickly find myself growing tired of the repetitive nature of the simulation.

However, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy my time with these games. New Horizons in particular was a special one for a number of reasons.

One, it was the first game in the series that my wife and I were able to play together in the same location locally. So this allowed us to enjoy the game together more easily. Secondly, it was one of the things that helped my wife get through a terrible point in her life as she went through an entire month of hellish withdrawal symptoms from a drug called suboxone.

There was a period of about 72 hours, or three full days where my wife couldn’t sleep and she spent a lot of that time aimlessly running around in ACNH to keep her mind off of things.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that this game was very important for a lot of people this year, and that includes us especially.

Still, beyond that, New Horizons is a fine game in its own right. It’s certainly the most ambitious Animal Crossing game to date, with the tools to terraform your entire island to your liking. And the ability to decorate outside of homes.

Another thing that I personally loved about the game was how fucking incredible the museum is. It’s without a doubt one of the coolest locations I’ve visited in a game this year. A massive by comparison interior that is broken up into several different sections. All featuring gorgeous environments and graphical effects that show you just how good Nintendo can be at squeezing an impressive feast for the eyes out of the Switch.

I also really grew attached to this storage area I set up on my island that my wife and I used as a dumping ground for all the game’s various crafting materials. It was my own little pet project. Even if I was pretty lazy with the upkeep on it.

That said, there were a number of things that disappointed us with this release. For the longest time, Zara was going to write her own little article explaining the things she didn’t like about New Horizons, but the truth is we’ve both been away from the game so long it’s hard to remember what a lot of those grievances are.

But it’s really telling when she will still pick up and play the mobile spin-off, Animal Crossing Pocket Camp on a daily basis, but hasn’t turned on her Switch once in the last five months.

Ouch.

Oh well, at least New Horizons was there for us when it counted.

9. Genshin Impact

(Best Surprise 2020)

I don’t think the internet was ready for Genshin Impact. I know I certainly wasn’t. For all I knew until a few months before its release, Genshin Impact was just that game they showed at a Chinese Gaming tradeshow where someone threw their PS4 on the ground out of protest against the game for being a Zelda: Breath of the Wild ripoff. Not only did Genshin Impact end up being one of my favorite distractions this year, but it even convinced me to give BoTW and similar games such as Ubisoft’s Immortals Fenxy Rising another shot. Also there’s just an unhealthy amount of gorgeous fanart out there for this game.

I think my biggest problem with this year’s breakout success from China, Genshin Impact is that I’ve had to start it over a couple times. And I don’t know if I’m prepared to do it again after investing 50–60+ hours into it just because my Twitter account got suspended, and that was the only thing tied to my login. But, ultimately, I guess I digress.

The first thing that most people will notice about Genshin is that it’s a very pretty game. Not only is the massive open world gorgeous, but also the game has attracted quite a following for its very, stupidly attractive cast of characters.

Characters who you more often than not either have to get lucky to pull from the game’s gacha system, or be willing to spend some fat stacks of cash if you’re feeling like a whale.

That’s probably, actually, honestly the first thing a lot of people noticed about Genshin Impact. Without a doubt this is one of the most mainstream gacha games we’ve seen in the genre after all these years, For the first time, possibly ever, many people around the world learned what the fuck a “gacha game” is. And, well, to be honest I haven’t noticed as many outraged reactions to that as I thought might be the case. Maybe loot boxes just prepared the mainstream for this? Who knows?

Anyway. Whereas a game like Breath of the Wild turned me off initially due to the demanding nature of the game, and my unwillingness to explore yet another open world — Genshin side steps this quite intelligently by constantly rewarding the player with a drip feed of rewards along the way.

It also probably helps that the game’s combat is generally more forgiving than BoTW, and weapon durability doesn’t exist here. But hey, maybe that’s just me.

The world of Teyvat is a colorful one, full of things to explore and do. The world map is scattered with a buckshot of mini objectives that range from combat trials, to environmental puzzles. I also don’t think people give enough credit to developers miHoYo for populating the world with interesting, personable characters, and a bunch of rich lore to sink your teeth into.

I’m also a fan of the fact that seemingly every nation in the game represents some other culture that can be reflected in our own world. It creates that familiar sense of globe trotting that you get with some of the best classic JRPGs.

The will of RNGesus can be kind of cruel though, and you might find yourself stuck with characters you don’t enjoy. Thankfully Genshin is pretty good about making it so that most of the characters in the game, if not in fact all, can be used to clear any and all content. It’s just up to the player to learn how to utilize them properly.

And that’s really why I think the game has taken off the way that it has. All those things I just listed? Attractive, likable characters? A rewarding “treadmill” of loot? And the sense to keep things fair for both free-to-play, and pay-to-win players alike? That’s just smart game design when it comes to this genre.

I don’t know if/when I’ll get my account back, but I would really like to try and roll for Zhongli, and to actually continue on with the story. And you know, not feel bad every time I see some nice Genshin Impact fan art — which is roughly once every hour — at least.

8. Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition

It only took 10 years, but hey, I can say that I finally consider myself a fan of Xenoblade Chronicles. That is to say, the first game. As opposed to Xenoblade Chronicles X, and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 which I already liked.

Despite being an avid fanboy of Tetsuya Takahasi’s previous games, Xenogears, and the Xenosaga trilogy — Xenoblade Chronicles never clicked with me. I was extremely excited for it before it came out. And even imported a copy of the European version when that was the only English localized release of the game.

There’s a number of reasons that might have contributed to that. A big one is that my roommate at the time was playing the game at the same time as me, and I kind of let him “take control” of it, and just kind of kept up with it loosely from the sidelines. Or perhaps it was because it shared a lot of similarities with Final Fantasy XII, one of my least favorite mainline entries in that series. Or maybe it was just because the character models were so hideous.

Whatever the reason, I just didn’t like the game. And people’s fervent obsession with it rubbed me the wrong way. But I always wanted to like it though. So I bought it again when it came out in North America. And then again when the 3DS version came out.

I never got very far though.

I wasn’t planning on giving the Switch rerelease the time of day. In fact I even lost a longtime mutual of mine on Twitter over badmouthing the game. But eventually, as it always does, thus Tetsuya Takahasi’s siren song called to me.

And this time it finally took hold of me. And you know what? I think it’s pretty god damn good!

Xenoblade set the stage for its two successors, and at times it can feel simplistic when compared to the complexity and depth of those games. But actually I consider that to be a point in the game’s favor. I didn’t enjoy Xenoblade X or Xenoblade 2 for lack of trying. I really struggled to enjoy those games, and they’re ridiculous combat systems.

But going back to the start of it all? Yeah, I would say Xenoblade has the best combat out of those three games, thanks largely due to its simplicity.

Another huge benefit of the Definitive Edition is the redesigned character models. Finally, at long last, I didn’t have to cringe every time the game showed a close up on any and every character’s face.

In fact I would go as far as to say that Fiora in the latter stages of the game is fucking fine as hell. And I know that my wife developed a crush on R E Y N TIME.

Thanks to the visual upgrades, and some sorely needed quality of life changes — Xenoblade became much easier to appreciate. Which is awesome, because the game does actually have an amazing story and a stellar cast of characters to go along with it.

The less said about the newly included Epilogue, the better I suppose. While it does include a very nice new redesign for Melia, and is undoubtedly a fun little mini-campaign — the new story section kind of just shits the bed on every other occasion. Failing to capture the same intensity and charm of the original game’s story. I will say that it’s still shocking how much better the Nopon are in this game than the other two games, where I kind of just despise their entire race.

No, I don’t think Xenoblade 1 is one of the best JRPGs of all time. No, I don’t think it “saved” the genre back before Persona 5 “saved” the genre. And I still think the Xenoblade 1 diehards who have an axe to grind with Xenoblade 2 are idiots — but, I will admit I was wrong about this game overall. It is in fact quite great!

7. Nioh 2

A year after From Software’s Sekiro sadly disappointed me, and still with no news on Elden Ring in sight, I guess it was up to Team Ninja’s sequel to Nioh to pick up the slack.

Long time readers might remember that Nioh cracked my top 10 list back in 2017 when it came out, and I’m happy to say that Nioh 2 is back at it again at the Krispy Kreme. And better yet, I think it’s an overall improvement over the original game.

One of the best additions to Nioh 2 was the ability to create your own character. Don’t get me wrong, I liked William as the main character of the previous game, but thanks to a very impressive character creator — Nioh 2 gave me one of my favorite new characters of the year. My wife. I guess? Because that’s who I make everytime I’m presented with a character creator anymore.

The Nioh 2 version of Zara is a badass, Odachi wielding half-oni who gives no fucks and is ready to throw down with any man or yokai foolish enough to test her. Just so long as they aren’t the fucking Snake boss from early on in the game, or… Skeleton Warriors.

Yeah, aside from the brick wall that is Yatsu-no-Kami, my biggest adversary in Nioh 2 was just your run of the mill Skeleton Warriors. Why? I have no clue! Perhaps I always just underestimated them? Maybe Nioh 2 Zara is afraid of skeletons in much the same way the MC in Suikoden Tactics is deathly afraid of fishmen. Who can say?

That part about smashing the fuck out of stuff with an Odachi though is no joke. After what could generously be described as a crash course in learning how to stop sucking during the early hours of Nioh 2, I eventually became an unstoppable killing machine that legitimately made me afraid of my own character by the end of the game.

But I didn’t start with the Odachi, you know? One of the things that struck me as praise worthy in the sequel in particular was just how easy it was to experiment with different builds. I always felt limited by that in the first game, but here I probably spent the first 15–20 hours of the game fucking around with different loadouts.

More, recent, long time readers might remember that this was a major selling point in last year’s Code Vein for me. I just like being able to play around with different things in a game like this, where gameplay is everything.

It’s fortunate that the gameplay resonated so much with me in Nioh 2, because I feel like the story might be one of the aspects of the sequel that isn’t outright better than the first game. I eventually grew to love the quirky nature in which the game’s narrative is told, and got pretty damn excited by events much later in the game. But the downside of losing William was less of an emphasis on a traditional narrative.

That’s fine though, because Nioh 2 was still a hell of a lot of fun. And perhaps even more impressive is the fact that for reasons unbeknownst to me, my wife who started watching me play the game during the three days that it took me to kill that fucking snake — actually grew to love watching me play it — and we played almost the entire game together from that point on.

I can’t say I was expecting that!

To play Devil’s advocate though, perhaps that had more to do with the game’s loveable fat cat mascot yokai, the Scampuss. Who just so we’re clear is the winner of 2020’s Best Video Game Cat award. Congrats Scampuss, you earned it!

6. Final Fantasy VII Remake

Wow. So you’re telling me the Remake of Final Fantasy VII, one of my favorite games of all time didn’t even crack the top 5 on this year’s list? Despite it being the game I was the most excited for going into this year? Perhaps not the “Best” surprise of the year, but maybe the “Biggest” surprise?

I dunno, I guess a lot of people would tell you that FF7R is a divisive game. And maybe that shouldn’t come as a surprise at all.

We’re talking about a full, top to bottom remake of one of the most beloved video games of all time. For all the hype and excitement that naturally brings to the table, it also invites a whole slew of criticism and concerns about the changes made to such a classic game.

I’m of the mind that the game does a mostly admiral job of knocking it out of the park where it counts, but I obviously can’t say I love everything about the remake.

For starters, the combat can be a bit hit or miss. I’m not someone who absolutely hates the shift from the turn-based combat of the original to a more action centric pace. In fact I think the game’s combat is quite fun, and it looks incredible in motion. However it does have some glaring issues.

Like… just how terrible it is to fight airborne enemies. It’s honestly disgusting how poor the game is at handling this, and I hope to god that future installments will address the issue.

There’s also the matter of the game’s pacing and artificial padding to try and beef up the playtime count. I think even the most staunch supporters of this game will admit that the chapters in which you have the option of partaking in “side quests” are the dullest, most tedious sections of the game. With very few of those side quests offering much in the way of value outside of whatever goodies you can get from it. And a rather frustrating method of unlocking dresses later in the game.

Then there’s the fact that the game is clearly signaling to the player the entire time that this isn’t your dad’s Final Fantasy VII — that is to say, don’t expect the story to play out the same way you remember it from the 90s.

This isn’t inherently a bad thing, since I believe part of the process of learning to “love” the remake is to accept it as a different entity than the original game, and not a replacement for it. But there were certainly some questionable decisions made for the sake of a “meta” narrative.

So with all of that baggage out of the way, um, why exactly *is* this game on my list?

It’s because of the previously mentioned “home runs” I eluded to.

If you were ever a fan of Final Fantasy VII, the original game, or the larger universe that sprung up around it — it’s hard to imagine not enjoying large portions of this game. The ridiculous attention to detail as you explore Midgar, both in terms of the environment, but also to the countless number of references and fan service. It’s hard not to grin from ear to ear while playing the remake.

The characters are simply put, “S-Tier”. These character models look fucking amazing! Like, holy shit! It’s sometimes hard to forget that Tetsuya Nomura can be a motherfucking boss, but it comes across loud and clear in this remake.

But the characters don’t just look pretty, they’re also brilliantly written and capture the essence of these characters we all fell in love with so many years ago. And beyond that, the game’s stellar localization and a cast of some of the industry’s best voice talent — be it newcomers or veterans alike — kind of steal the show. I’m incredibly excited to see where some of these people go with their careers going forward.

Those people’s lovely vocal performances aren’t the only sweet sounding thing about the remake, but the game does an excellent job of combining old and new to make one of this year’s best original soundtracks. And that’s really saying something considering not only the prestige of the original OST, but also the fact that video game music was fucking good across the board this year.

It’s not as if I hated the combat in FF7R either. In fact I pretty much played through the game twice, and would love to do so a third time on the game’s unique “Hard Mode” setting which fundamentally changes the way you play the game in much more interesting ways than the standard difficulty slider option.

And all the while I was just excited as hell while I played through the game. There were so many moments that made me laugh out loud, or tear up, or just genuinely feel good about what I was playing. That even when I can list a bunch of “cons” down on paper, it doesn’t take away from the amazing time I had playing the game.

Here’s hoping we actually see Part 2 sometime in our lifetime.

5. Ghost of Tsushima

(Best Looking Game 2020)

Before I even begin to talk about Ghost of Tsushima, I have to give the game its due when it comes to the best looking game I played this year, because god DAMN. The game is no slouch when it comes to the characters themselves, but the real beauty of the game lies in the island of Tsushima itself. It’s hard to find a moment in Tsushima that isn’t screenshot worthy.This game made me so happy that I have a TV that supports HDR, and as someone who never made the jump to PS4 Pro, I can’t wait to revisit this game on a PS5. Eventually.

Like God of War (2018) before it, Ghost of Tsushima is the very rare example of a huge AAA western game making it onto my personal game of the year list. It’s not that I hate AAA games, or western games. But they’re just not typically my favorites, you know?

Ghost of Tsushima bucks that trend by being a lovingly crafted homage to feudal Japan while simultaneously emulating the cinematic stylings of acclaimed film director Akira Kurosawa. Ghost of Tsushima definitely has an identity of its own though too.

My wife and I affectionately dubbed this game the “Jin Sakai Simulator” named for the game’s protagonist whom you play as for the entire single player campaign. Jin’s story isn’t the most surprising one around, but it’s one that contains a ton of genuine heart and emotion, and the game’s surprisingly small cast of supporting characters go a long way to sell you on that journey.

As much as we were attached to Jin and his journey to liberate Tsushima, it’s really the other aspects of Ghost of Tsushima that make the game stand out among a sea of similar open world games.

One of my biggest annoyances in games media this year was the muted response some critics had to Tsushima. I’ve seen more than a few reviews that knock the game for being “nothing special” and “just the same old, same old”.

I feel like this is the furthest thing from the truth when it comes to Tsushima. The developers at Sucker Punch have done a very admirable job of making open world games actually fun again, especially for someone like me who over time has grown to largely despise them.

It’s hard to put into words exactly why the island of Tsushima is more appealing, and digestible than other open world games on the market. But I think a large part of it had to do with smart decisions by the developers. Be it huge quality of life changes, that range from simple things like being able to just rip up whatever loot you ride by on your horse straight out of the ground without needing to dismount.

Or the slow, gradual rollout of locations and objectives that are much easier to appreciate than the clusterfuck of map markers that show up when you climb a tower in an Ubisoft game. The game also isn’t shy about guiding you towards things to discover, and or complete on your journey. And fast travel is never an issue, because waypoints are plentiful, and load times are nearly non-existent.

There aren’t really any tedious “side quests” here either. Almost all of the game’s actual side quests are wrapped up in the personal stories of your traveling companions or tied to an extended quest line to find some legendary armor. And instead there are a number of repeatable objectives like clearing camps of Mongols, or navigating to the top of a shrine through a cleverly assembled obstacle course of platforming.

All of this, and I haven’t even said a word about the game’s combat. Which is honestly sublime. It isn’t so much that the game makes smart use of the fact that Jin is literally a Samurai/Ninja warrior who has access to a wide variety of assassin’s tools, and abilities. Or that the game features a stance dance type system that allows you to gain an advantage against certain enemy types depending on which form you’re in.

But rather, it’s the way the game makes you ”“feel”.

{Best Moment 2020 — “The Ghost of Yarikawa” mission)

What I mean by “feel” can best be described by how it felt to play through one of the best parts in the entire game. “The Ghost of Yarikawa” story mission is a turning point about halfway through the game. It’s an intense moment for Jin and his allies as the samurai survivor is forced to repel an overwhelming force of Mongol invaders from capturing the settlement of Yarikawa.

In this mission, Jin fights alongside some of his friends he’s come to rely on throughout the campaign, as well as the people of the settlement he’s trying to protect. The battle begins with Jin and his crew trying to stop the Mongols at the gates, but things quickly turn south when the foes threaten to overwhelm them.

It’s at this point that Jin has to sneak past the invading army and disarm their long range ballista type weapons. Then immediately rush back to the settlement to try and help thin out the horde of invaders in the city.

This eventually leads to Jin having a one-on-one show down with the commander of these forces, and in what can only be described as this year’s best moment — Jin decapitates the commanding officer in front of his men. Instilling fear into them so badly that they’re forced to recoil in fear as the Ghost of Tsushima approaches them like a god damn boss to put an end to their lives.

This is also, possibly the coolest way I’ve ever seen a game present the player with a God of War style “rage meter” type of ability.

The best thing about that whole sequence though? I was in control of it. All of it. So when the game is showing Jin literally turn into “The Ghost of Tsushima” I was in control of all that. The hectic battle against an overwhelming force? I was putting a little extra “oomph” into mashing out those attacks. The desperate rush back to camp? I was using my grappling hook to fly into the settlement like Batman. The rush of adrenaline you get from making your enemies shit their pants? Yeah, Jin Sakai Simulator 2020, baby, what’s up?!

4. Hades

(Best Soundtrack 2020)

Anyone who has kept up with Supergiant Games over the years will be familiar with the composer (and voice actor?!) Darren Korb’s deliciously sitar infused soundtracks. And Hades is no different in that regard. What might be considered the man’s best work is also an easy shoe-in for the best original soundtrack for a game this year. And as I mentioned before, this year the competition was plenty spicy, but Korb is just too good for y’all.”Out of Tartarus” is such a fucking banger that even though it debued alongside the game’s announcement at The Game Awards back in 2018, it still slaps like a motherfucker.

I’ve been a fan of SuperGiant’s games since they burst onto the scene with Bastion all those years ago. It was one of the first indie games that I really remember resonating with. I sadly wasn’t as big of a fan of Transistor, but I appreciate the game’s sense of style none the less. And Pyre was just a weird competitive sport meets visual novel that was just kind of awesome?

Now here’s Hades. And I have to say I think it might be my new favorite SGG’s game. There isn’t a part of this game that doesn’t rule. I already spoke gospel about the music. But the gameplay? Excellent. The art? Fucking beautiful. The characters? All of em’ are extremely fuckable. The story and writing? Brilliant as always.

This game is as close to the idea of a “perfect game” as you can reasonably get. And it’s honestly not even all that surprising considering SuperGiant’s track record. As well as an extremely successful “Early Access” run that paved the way for this game to absolutely slay when it finally hit 1.0 this year.

What sets Hades apart from similar games in that space is that it takes the classic Blizzard approach of taking a genre of game that might have initially been a little more demanding, and then refining it in such a way that not only does it become wildly more accessible, but also establishes itself as an one of the best games in the genre to boot.

Another noteworthy thing that Hades does differently is that SGG actually came up with a rather elaborate method of dolling out the game’s narrative to the players.

People don’t typically play these types of games for their story, and yet here’s Hades, with some of the most lovable characters this year. And the previously mentioned narrative system helps to bring that element of “randomness” to the game’s story as well.

But it does it in such a way that you always feel rewarded for the progress you make, and there’s a seemingly endless variety of dialogue to help entice you into that “just one more run…” mindset.

Of course this wouldn’t be one of the best roguelites out there if the game was a slouch when it came to actually playing it. And another aspect of Hades that works so well is that the player is constantly learning and evolving from run to run.

Clearing each area in the Underworld feels like a feat of greatness when you accomplish it for the first time. But the game is wise in that it doesn’t enforce the idea that the player should just find what works best and stick with it.

Through carefully crafted systems and incentives the game rewards experimentation. There are several weapons to choose from early on in the game, but they eventually expand out into variations of those weapons that dramatically affect how you fight with them.

The thrill of putting together the right combination of boons to make a truly overpowered, or sometimes straight up ridiculous build is addictive as any sort of gameplay loop. And being able to influence some of the game’s randomness through equipable trinkets keeps runs from feeling like a total crapshoot every time.

The game’s handling of difficulty is also commendable. As you make your way further into the game you’ll eventually unlock the ability to add modifiers that will make your treks to freedom much more spicy in exchange for further advancements in powering up your weapons.

The game also features a “casual” mode, charmingly called “God Mode”. But even this is worthy of praise in that it doesn’t erase the challenge of the game entirely, but provides a stacking defense buff that can help make a difference without dumbing down the core gameplay.

All things considered, I don’t think it’s too surprising that this game snagged a spot on The Game Awards nominees for game of the year, or even the fact that this game will most certainly win its fair share of such awards by the end of the year.

{Best Character 2020 — Zagreus)

The leading man. Zagreus is the player character in your never ending treck to get out of the underworld of Greek mythology, and he’s the definition of “husband material”. One, he’s fucking hot as fuck. Like, god damn. Even if I weren’t Pansexual I would fuck this man if given the oppurtunity.

Two, he’s just genuinely an amazingly written and acted character. Darren Korb who I mentioned previously also serves as the voice for this hunk of man, and he does an outstanding job of selling you on Prince “Zed”.

There were a lot of amazing characters in the games I played this year, but Zagreus still reigns supreme in my book.

I don’t honestly know what SuperGiant Games will tackle next. I would love to see more content for Hades. But I seriously doubt they’ll do a direct sequel to it. That’s just not their style. But I have to imagine they’ll experiment with Early Access again, and I can’t wait to lust after a game for another two years or so before finally digging in for the next meal.

3. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim

(Best Story 2020)

I’m not sure even I, for as much as I tend to write, could even ever begin to summarize, or even try to explain what’s going on in 13 Sentinels. Nor should I, as it is a game that you really need to play for yourself, and I wouldn’t deny that treat to anyone. I’ve tried to limit the amount of spoilers I put into these write-ups in recent years, but this year I’m really trying to go the extra mile and part of that probably has to do with 13 Sentinels.

So, while I can’t tell you about the story, let me try and convey why this game is a must play for pretty much anyone who appreciates story focused games.

Holy shit, man. 13 Sentinels is one hell of a mindfuck. And I say that in the best way possible. In past years I’ve written about games from the Zero Escape series, Danganronpa, Steins;Gate. And yet I don’t think any of them compare to the absurdity of 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim. I guarantee you will not be able to predict where this game is headed most of the time. Even if you think you know.

It’s actually been a wild one waiting for Vanillaware’s latest game to finally come out.Their last new project was 2013’s Dragon’s Crown. 2013! That was like a lifetime ago. And it was almost as long ago when we first learned of 13 Sentinels.

During a sizzle reel during Tokyo Game Show 2015, the world got its first look at Vanillaware’s latest. But it would be many years before people actually understood what the game even was, what it was about, or even what the fuck you actually did in it.

As it turns out 13 Sentinels is…

*Checks Notes*

A fusion of story rich visual novel, with interactive exploration and dialogue segments and uh… RTS battles.

Hey, wait! I’ve played this game before! It was called GrimGrimore and it was a Vanillaware game for the PS2 that was released in 2007!

Damn.

I had a real fondness for GrimGrimore by the way, even if it is arguably one of their least popular games. For ones that actually came out in the west anyway. But I digress.

Truthfully the RTS segments are definitely the weakest link in this otherwise incredible gem of a game. That’s not to say they’re bad, as they can actually be quite fun. Or perhaps you don’t want to bother trying to win the RTS segments? Just put the game on “Casual” and spam Sentry Guns — boom, you’re done.

The RTS battles in the game offer their own visual flair, so to speak, but they also betray the true beauty of the game seen elsewhere. Locked into a weird “Tron” style grid view of a cityscape. There are plenty of pretty explosions, and you get to see the characters naked when the dialogue cuts in, but that’s about it for the looks department.

Maybe this is to counterbalance the fact that the rest of the game is jaw droppingly gorgeous? Ghost of Tsushima might have won the best looking award, but 13 Sentinels is more than capable of stepping up to the challenge.

Vanillaware’s signature style is once again on full display here, with some of the best 2D sprite work around, unbelievably detailed backgrounds, charming character designs, and a stylistic approach to the game’s UI that brings to mind Persona 5. Which is a huge compliment by the way.

The game’s development is somewhat documented due to things like this tweet from the game’s director, George Kamitani that quite simply states: “I doubt we’ll ever be able to create a game the same way we did with this one.”

Another curiosity of the game was just how exactly it had to be localized for an English speaking audience. And the complications that came from the game’s unique setting. As well as how the localization staff had to struggle with getting the English voice over recorded during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

It was worth it though. If Sega has proven anything in these past few years it’s that it’s capable of putting the best people in charge of extremely high quality English localizations. Not only is the aforementioned writing brilliant, but the voice cast for the game is among the best I’ve seen — and it’s not entirely uncommon to see good English dubs at this point in time either.

I also have to give a special commendation to this game’s soundtrack, which I think I might actually enjoy just about as much as Hades’ soundtrack. This shouldn’t come as a surprise though, since the game’s composer is Hitoshi Sakimoto who you might remember from such GOAT soundtracks as Final Fantasy Tactics. There’s some truly amazing stuff on this soundtrack that suits the atmosphere of the game perfectly.

13 Sentinel’s story unfolds around the player in a fascinating way that is a different approach to how SuperGiant made Hades’s story progress differently from player to player. There’s no set path through the game, at any time you have a number of options available to you in how to progress.

This isn’t entirely dissimilar to a “choose your own adventure” style trick that was popular in some books back in the 90s, but the difference here is that 13 Sentinels plot is so elaborate that it allows the player to form their own opinion about what they see developing in front of them.

The way you play the game might make you feel entirely differently than someone else who played things in a different order. And the best part about this is that every player will “discover” things about the plot at a different place or time, and even pacing.

I know it’s hard to wrap your head around, and I’m not going to try and push it any further than that. But what I’m basically trying to say is that this game is almost more “an experience” than a game. And I don’t mean to imply that in any negative sort of way.

I actually mean to say, that this is a once in a lifetime type thing to see and discover for yourself, and when you finish it, you might wish that vivid memories could turn into fantasies, cause that’s the men in, that’s the men in…

(“OTP” of 2020 — Takatoshi Hijiyama x Tsukasa Okino)

To be fair, one of the most impressive things about 13 Sentinels is that even though the game boasts a rather large cast of “main characters” for my wife and I, it accomplished something we thought impossible by having the “canonical” pairing of every character by the end of the game be the exact pairing we agreed with. I’m not even the biggest fan of “shipping” but it comes across quite naturally in this game.

None of those results are as satisfying as the back and forth dynamic between our favorite character, and Yakisoba Pan enthusiast, Takatoshi Hijiyama and the crossdressing Tsukasa Okino. One need only play an hour or so into the game before it also becomes your OTP. Trust me.

2. Yakuza (7): Like A Dragon

(Best Voice Actor 2020: Kaiji Tang (Takatoshi Hijiyama (13 Sentinels), Ichiban Kasuga (Yakuza 7)

Kaiji Tang has been a longtime favorite of mine ever since I was introduced to him as Owain in the English release of Fire Emblem Awakening. Originally I feel like I associated Kaiji with that type of over-the-top character, and indeed he fits that role well. But more recently, especially this year I’ve found myself respecting the man even more.

Both of the roles I listed here, be it Hijiyama, or Kasuga both required Kaiji to at times be completely ridiculous and swoon over his beloved Yakisoba Pan. But at other times the man brings about a tear jerking performance as he delivers his lines with a passion that comes across as sincere and really brings the best out of characters like these.

“Time flows like a river and history repeats.”

Okay, maybe that’s the wrong classic JRPG series, but Yakuza: Like a Dragon, or Yakuza 7 if you rather is all about classic JRPG references, though mainly of the Dragon Quest variety.

However, that quote still rings true when it comes to Yakuza 7. After the life and times of Yakuza’s previous leading man, Kazuma Kiryu wrapped itself up in 2018’s Yakuza 6, the next game in the series promised a lot of big changes.

For one, an entirely new protagonist in the form of Ichiban Kasuga. And secondly, though much more readily apparent is the shift from a brawler style “adventure” game into a full on turn-based JRPG.

Your little history lesson about this transition is that the game was initially “teased” via a legit April Fool’s Day joke from last year. I think for a while people assumed that the “joke” part of this was that the April Fool’s Day teaser was an actual sneak peak at the next Yakuza game being a turn-based JRPG. But in fact it’s quite the opposite!

Reception to the joke was so popular that during the final year of development the studio shifted gears to turn the latest Yakuza game into the very joke they made. And that’s how Yakuza 7 was born!

Setting aside the gameplay departure for a second, I’d like to return to the above quote for a second. Indeed, Ichiban’s journey throughout Yakuza 7 has many parallels to Kiryu’s humble beginnings in Yakuza 1. Even reaching back further into the Dragon of Dojima’s backstory that was fleshed out in the series’s prequel Yakuza 0.

This is such a meaningful, and appropriate way to pass the torch from one legend to the next. As even though Kasuga’s story has many similarities to Kiryu’s, it’s the fact that Kasuga himself is such an incredibly different type of character than the previous series lead.

Kazuma Kiryu was always the strong, silent type. He always acted very stoically (outside of the ridiculous depths that the series embraces in its sub-stories), but he always had a heart a gold deep inside him.

Ichiban Kasuga on the other hand is loud, and in your face. He thrives on being ridiculous and overly positive in the toughest of situations. Kasuga wears his heart on his sleeve, and there’s no way you’d be left wondering what kind of man he is.

These two different personalities, and perspectives on life create for wildly different solutions to the similar problems the two men face. Sure, at the end of the day there’s still a lot of beating the shit out of dudes, but the game paints its story in different strokes.

Speaking of which, Yakuza 7, for as absurd as it is, also represents a turning point for the series. And by that I mean, this game is far, far darker than those that came before it. Tackling some truly tough issues in society, putting its political views out there front and center, and also just taking a more mature, and oftentimes bleak approach to the main story.

But then you wander into the sewers and fight three men who are wearing bright blue trash bags and wobbling around like your typical “slime” monsters, and then fight a naked, overweight man who is in shibari bondage, covered in massage oil, and wearing a Burger King crown.

Yeah, it’s fucked up.

As polarizing as those two situations are, I think it further enforces one of Yakuza’s core strengths, and that’s its ability to walk the increasingly fine line between how bonkers its optional content can be, while also brandishing a thoughtful, dramatic narrative that reels you in from start to finish.

I’ve talked a lot about Ichiban, but I’m happy to say that the rest of the crew is in top form here too, with one exception. The other main characters in the story Adachi, Nanba, Saeko, Joon-gi Han, and Zhao all make up a stellar supporting cast. And they each bring with them their own quirky personalities, and usually tragic backstories, as well as provide a bit more variety in the game’s combat.

That one exception I mentioned would be Eri, the game’s only optional party member. I can imagine she will have her fans out there, but for me I just never really grew to like her, even though I will say the business management mini-game is pretty addictive, and her unique job class is pretty damn useful when you need her in a pinch.

Speaking of the game’s combat once more, I will say that as a fan of the series and it’s brawling style gameplay in the past — I would be perfectly fine with them continuing along with the JRPG combat from now on. I still think there’s room for something like a sequel to Judgment to pick that beat-em-up mantle back up, but I think that Yakuza 8 should further refine what they’ve built here, because it’s damn good.

The game appropriately draws a bunch of its inspiration from Dragon Quest, right down to name dropping it several times throughout the game, and referencing aspects of those games. It also, maybe not too surprisingly draws on Sega’s other big JRPG franchise right now, Persona.

Beyond an emphasis on attacks and abilities having different attributes that are more effective against certain enemies vs. others is the fact that the game puts a lot into its sense of style during combat. Yes, the combat HUD looks similar to Persona 5, but the entire game is full of over-the-top flashy attacks that make these turn-based battles extremely entertaining to watch.

As for the Dragon Quest style “Job” system, the game cleverly ties that to real world occupations and has the characters apply for these jobs at Hello Work, a real life employment service in Japan.

It’s little details like this that I’ve always really appreciated about Yakuza. In many ways it really, actually is the spiritual successor to Shenmue. A game that, in its time, was more concerned about emulating realism within the confines of a video game. The solution that Yakuza came up with was to tone that aspect down a bit, and actually make the games, um, good? And I say that as someone who really liked Shenmue back in the day.

Yakuza 7 isn’t a perfect game. And it’s not even the most interesting game on this list. In fact if I had to say how I really feel, I think that both 13 Sentinels and Yakuza 7 are just about tied in order of how much I like them. But after a year away from the Yakuza series (we still have to play Judgment) it’s been a real fucking treat to jump back in. I’m so happy that this series has continued to flourish and do well, and I’m excited about where it’s headed next.Wherever that may be.

1. Granblue Fantasy Versus

First, I really have to wonder if anyone who knows me, or even people just reading along with this list was able to predict Granblue Fantasy Versus would be my overall #1 game? To those that follow me on Twitter, it’s probably not a secret that I really love this game, but even so — a fighting game for #1? And it isn’t a Smash Bros. game? Really?

Hell yeah, friends. I’m here to once again preach about GBVS, and once again make a case for “Accessible Fighting Games”.

I actually wrote a review about the game back when it came out earlier this year, and in that review I explained why I was excited for it, how fighting games visually look appealing, how they can be difficult to learn, why I think accessibility is an important factor for growth in the genre, and I also gave the game a positive review while I was at it.

I wrote all of that after only spending two weeks with the game. It’s now December 2nd as I finish writing this list and I’m here to report that not only have I continued to play the game throughout the entire year, but my wife and I have probably played close to a thousand matches spread across upwards of over a hundred hours spent playing the game.

Yes, we both really, really fucking love this game to death.

Instead of rehashing the things I said in my review, I’d like to explain our experience with not only Granblue Versus, but also Granblue Fantasy, the series, as a whole over the last year. I also want to talk about how it made both of us far more competent at fighting games (especially this one) and how it taught us so much about the genre as a whole.

I also want to talk about the new things I’ve learned since then, and perhaps some revised opinions about the review from the beginning of the year.So, strap in!

As I said in my review, I initially became excited about this game a couple months before release. My wife and I have both dabbled with Granblue Fantasy, the mobile game, in the past, but it was never a real interest of ours.

It was only when I started to see more coverage about Versus as a fighting game that it really got its hooks in me. Once the game came out, and I played it, I was happy to see the excitement was justified, the purchase doubly so — as I bought the more expensive version of the game that came with the first season pass / character pass.

I actually had to talk my wife into letting me buy it in the first place, at the time, and I even did something a little fucked up and went behind her back to buy one of these Hori Fighting Commander Pro fight pads for PS4. (I recently bought another one for her so that she would stop stealing mine all the time! They’re really awesome!)

I showed her a little bit of the game the first night it came out, but she went to bed shortly afterwards. Seemingly not too terribly interested in it. I stayed up all night to play it though. Then the next morning she came running out of our bedroom ranting and raving about a dream she had.

She basically had a, um, lewd dream about both Lancelot and Percival, two characters from the game. And despite the fact that she got their names mixed up in the dream (and didn’t even remember fully what they looked like? lol) that was the moment when Granblue took hold of her.

She was eager to play the game with me all morning, and even though neither of us were very good at it, it was still a lot of fun.

And so began GBVS’s march to the top of this list.

Early on I was playing online matches, both in the lobby, and in ranked. I mainly played Gran (the main character, a shoto type character, similar to Ken from Street Fighter). I still wasn’t very good, but I was having fun, and learning.

Zara, my wife, would still play with me quite frequently, and we were both evenly matched for a while. But eventually the game started to die down for us for a number of reasons. But we still played it off and on during the summer months.

It was really the arrival of the season two DLC that changed everything. But more on that later.

One of the things I picked up in the process of getting into GBVS was following several FGC (Fighting Game Community) YouTubers. These videos varied in terms of quality from person to person, but I was still absorbing a bunch of info just by watching them.

I’ll shout out one person in particular, and that’s Sajam who has become probably my favorite “content creator” at this point. Sajam has a background in not only competitive tournament play within the scene, but also as a commentator, even commentating events like Evo (RIP… eesh)

Sajam is my favorite person to watch by far when it comes to fighting games because not only do I find him to be charismatic, and entertaining, but more importantly he’s indirectly given me a ton of knowledge and advice about fighting games.

So part of the process, I’ve found, when it comes to getting more invested in fighting games is that you start watching people play fighting games. And not just at big tournaments, or “best of” matches. But just like, check out someone’s stream, or VoDs for things that sound interesting. You’ll probably learn a lot, and it will make you a better player as a result.

In my review I briefly touched on the silly terminology that gets thrown around in the FGC. At the time I had a very, very minimal understanding of it. But now I feel much more confident in that I’ll know what the fuck I’m talking about if someone asked me things like “what kind of character is this?”, “what match-ups are better against this character?”, and “what’s this type of move called?”.

Those things might all sound very basic knowledge, and honesty they quickly become that way if you dig in a bit. But you’d be surprised how much of that info carries over from game to game.

So, anyway.

Let’s talk about Belial.

Belial is one of the more recent additions to the roster in Granblue Fantasy Versus, but he’s a character we knew was coming from before the game even came out. In a, uh, pretty strange maneuver, Arc System Works, and Cygames announced the first character coming out in the… second season pass. Well before people even knew all the characters that were coming in the first season pass.

The best explanation for this is that not only does Belial play an integral part in GBVS’s story mode, but he’s also an incredibly popular character from that mobile game.

Typically, gacha games are kind of geared towards… the male gaze? I guess? I don’t fucking know. But it’s not an unpopular genre with women either. And somehow Granblue Fantasy is one of the few gacha games to somehow crack the code and make women extremely thirsty for its male characters. And female characters too, honestly.

Belial is basically what happened when Cygames channelled all of that fujoshi energy and harnessed it, and molded it into a sexual god. And of course my wife is madly, deeply in love with him.

This has caused… some interesting things to happen in our relationship, haha. I don’t really need to go into detail or anything, but trust me, the thirst is extremely real here.

So, of course she was eagerly waiting until September 23rd when this motherfucker came out and apparently ruined the game considering how many people bitched about him being OP. To be fair, he is quite good, but people will exaggerate about anything and everything.

As I mentioned before, this was the real turning point for us with the game. We both had a renewed interest in the game, and started playing it pretty much every single day.Then a curious thing happened. My wife got extremely fucking good at the game. Like, just fucking destroying me, effortlessly a lot of times.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why this happened. She was interested in Belial obviously. And much to her delight he was a perfect fit for her playstyle. But it went beyond that. She just got really invested in the game. And in turn fighting games.

Which is more of a renewed interest if anything. Since she used to play Tekken back in the day, a lot, and dominated a bunch of people in the arcade. So she’s always had an interest in fighting games, much the same way I did. But I guess she just needed the right kind of “push” to take a deep dive into it.

So we just played the game. A lot. Like a fucking ton of matches every week. And we both learned new things, and improved on old things. We were just actively learning this genre. And we both had a fucking blast doing it.

That’s just kind of a special experience, you know? It’s always nice to have someone to play games with. Better yet if it’s your partner. And better even still if you both push each other to get better over time.

So. That’s a lot of words about our own personal little story with GBVS. And of course as a result of this game, we got much more invested in the mobile game. And the series as a whole. It’s very exciting to think that Granblue Fes is coming up soon, and we’ll see more Versus stuff. And hopefully some stuff about ReLink. And also get to take part in the bi-annual tradition of the “Gachapin Frenzy”.

And that’s all thanks to this licensed fighting game that was basically sent out to die in a post COVID-19 world, where local tournaments aren’t really there right now, and the game has shitty delay based netcode. And yet, despite that,it seems the game has still somehow managed to do alright for itself.

And yeah, we can talk about how that’s thanks in part to ArcSys’s pedigree, or the appeal of the Granblue IP to a more diverse audience then there might otherwise be. But I really do think that this game was important in a significant way because of how accessible it is.

The “Skill” button is one thing. The auto-combo another. These things certainly help. But I think the game is just incredibly smartly designed in a way that if you’re willing to put in the time to learn it, it can help teach you about the genre.

And it’s not just some simplified version of a fighting game, like Fantasy Strike. It’s a game that at its core is a real ass fighting game. And I think the game does a good job of presenting tutorials, glossaries, information, and incentives to learn these things.

You can say what you want about the RPG Mode. It’s a breezy little story, that’s great fan service for the main game. It’s a fun little distraction that allows the game to have unlockable cosmetics that can be fun to unlock.

The game also has an amazing soundtrack, because Granblue Fantasy has an amazing soundtrack. The roster of characters stand out as a memorable cast, both in terms of their movesets and personalities. Both the Japanese and English voice overs are great. (Well, except Percival’s English voice…) and of course the game is fucking gorgeous.

There are a handful of things that annoy me about the game, sure. The game’s netcode leaves a lot to be desired. RPG Mode can be a bit tedious when you don’t feel like grinding for new DLC character weapon skins. And this is such a silly little thing, but more infuriating than you can possibly imagine, but the game has a “Skillful Moves” counter at the end of every match. Recently our friend read to us how this is actually calculated, but it never “feels” accurate and just serves to annoy. I wish you could disable it, haha.

I feel like there’s a strong case to be made about any of the top five games on my list for the number one spot. Some are “closer to perfect” than others. Some are more unique. But none of them provided the same amount of entertainment my wife and I got out of this game. And it was also a unique experience for us in its own right.

So that’s why Granblue Fantasy Versus is my…

(Best Multiplayer Game 2020)

To be honest there wasn’t a ton of competition for this spot anyway, but rest assured this would still be number one.

And my…

(GAME OF THE YEAR 2020)

Hi, My name is Joel and I write things like incredibly long game of the year lists, the occasional review or article, and fanfiction every once in a while.

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