Like the awards Sebastian used to make... Just noodles and broth.
2021's about to be over. 2021's... about to be over. So strange to think about. The world might be burning while we find new ways to add oil to the fire, but hey, at least we've got good games this year to distract ourselves a little? And to tell the truth, it's not all been bad. Work is going well and pays well. I'm an uncle now, and the baby is adorable. It does good for me to focus on the little stuff.
I kinda wanted to write this as a continuation of the Bass Awards at first. Turns out I'm not sure I have the energy to write any downer stuff, and I'm not sure you want to read any downer stuff either! So how about this. No lies, no tricks. Just some takes of mine, and if you share yours with me, we can have a discussion. And, at least, I hope, you end up giving one of these games a shot if you haven't already. Sounds good, right?
"It seems like after all I couldn't be anything more than a simple puppet."
Full disclosure: I'm one of these people who had a great time with Undertale ever since its debut on Kickstarter, back in... 2013? Holy moly.
It's hard to talk about Deltarune without taking into consideration its older brother. Not only because of the expectations it set for the future, but also because the two games ultimately share a lot of points in common. There are shared characters, shared humor, and of course, they share the ability to complete battles without violence. The evolution between the two games is particularly interesting because, for all its improvements across the board, it ends up a more... conventional video game?
Undertale is a funny game with mixed bag sprite work, banging music, and a strong core mechanic to carry it all the way through.
Deltarune is longer, looks better, has an evolved battle system with party member coordination and less guesswork, and it involves you in a larger-scale story from the get-go. All great things, which I love the game for! But it might never catch on to the degree of the original because it doesn't have the same simplicity to it if that makes sense.
Deltarune's first two chapters are out for free, and I had an absolutely wonderful time with them so far. If you loved Undertale, you should definitely give them a try. If you didn't, you might still like it. The larger scope and nuance give it a different vibe, which you might like more. Plus, the internet hasn't jumped on it as much, so you should be able to enjoy it on its own merits.
"Y-you would truly bestow such an incredible gift upon a plebeian wretch like me?"
I've been waiting for a sequel to The World Ends With You for years now. Even in the past few years before Neo was announced, I wrote blogs about the original game, bought the soundtrack, played it twice over on Android. And finally, finally, 14 years later, a sequel is out. One that channels the style of the original, and creatively finds new ways to deliver the loudness, the hecticness of the original game without relying on dual screens.
It's not selling well.
But that's enough context. I guess if I'm to convince anyone to give the game a shot, I should focus on what it is. And what it is, is a fast-paced action JRPG set in Shibuya's afterlife. Teams of players duke it out in the Reapers' Game for a chance to return to a normal life, and as the newest team to be added, you've got big shoes to fill.
Lots of the things the original game innovated are back in full force. Stores become friendlier as you shop with them often. Eating at restaurants gives you permanent stats but is limited by your hunger. You equip a subset of spells into battle through pins, in this case one per character in your party. There are no random battles, and you can choose to string together many consecutive battles if you want. The more dangerous the situation, by stringing multiple battles in a row or lowering your level, the better the drop rates of enemies. It all combines to make a really clever game that's rewarding to play, whether you're grinding for fun or advancing the story.
As for the characters and mysteries the game has for you, they're mostly great. The main character is a bit one-note, unfortunately, but everyone else in the cast was a treat. And quite a few twists and turns in the narrative got me to say "oh shit!".
I ain't trying to force you into giving it a try. I'm just strongly suggesting it. And hey, there's a demo out there, so what do you have to lose?
Rating: New chapter of EleStra/10
"I will stop at nothing to protect my client! I don't care who I make an enemy of!"
It just so ends up that 2021 was a year of fantastic sequels for me. Though in this case, these are Ace Attorney games from a few years back that we only now get localized in a glorious collection.
And glorious it is. Mainline adventures in the Ace Attorney series haven't quite had the same spark lately, with AA 5/6 reverting some of Phoenix Wright's character development and giving Apollo Justice more and more convoluted a backstory with each game. But the Great Ace Attorney goes above and beyond, with the original director and writer Shu Takumi returning to deliver my favorite work of his yet.
But before we get to that, how do Ace Attorney games work again? Essentially, you're thrust in the role of a defense attorney that not only has to figure out how a crime played out, but also must convince the court of your client's innocence. You do this by collecting evidence, listening to witness testimonies, and exposing lies and inconsistency in court. It's rather light in gameplay, being essentially a visual novel with a life bar for incorrect options, which makes it the perfect pair of games for a quick session before or after work when you don't have a lot of energy.
The Great Ace Attorney mostly delivers tried and true concepts polished to a sheen, but there are a few new gameplay elements to be found too. The first is the presence of a jury in court, which brings unique perspectives beyond the judge's to the proceedings. The second one, much more crucially, is the Logic and Reasoning Extraordinaire, an out-of-court sequence where you correct Sherlock Holmes' faulty train of thoughts until he arrives at the right conclusion. It brings a refreshing change to the sometimes dry crime scene investigations in the rest of the series. In the second game, I thought I had found my favorite Logic and Reasoning Extraordinaire, only for the next one to be even better two chapters in a row.
Get this game. Just do it. You'll be glad you did. I cried when the credits rolled at the end of the collection.
Rating: Trials & Tribulations++/10
"Maybe you did decide to start over from the bottom and work your way back up."
It's not a 2021 game but I only caught up to the Yakuza series this year so it counts! Yakuza: Like a Dragon is the first entry in the Yakuza series to try something different from its beat-em-up style, being a turn-based JRPG instead. And wow, did they ever nail the transition.
For starters, the story they told and the way it's told just work wonders together. For a story about crawling out from rock bottom, an RPG just makes a ton of sense as a way to illustrate it. If you think about who would start from nothing, and would have the time to tackle a large-scale adventure... Yeah, unemployed misfits would be the heroes of a modern age! They did a tremendous job at making a JRPG make sense in our world.
Helps that the game is just plain fun too.
If you wish to try the Yakuza series, it's not the worst place to start. You'd be missing out on some easter eggs, of course. But the playable cast is new, the writing is top-notch, and the gameplay is a fresh start from the series. Definitely, definitely a recommendation from me, that only missed the top 3 by not releasing this year!
Rating: Dragon Quest X/X
"Nobody tells me what to do! I swore that I would be a sword! I swore that I would be YOUR sword! Do you hear me?!"
I've been waiting for a NieRmaster for a very long time, and I'm glad we ended up getting even more than that. The game's got a great new chapter, Mermaid, and a new ending, which I won't spoil. All the good bits, like the atmosphere, the music, the characters and gutwrenching world are there, with more fluid gameplay to make it stick together better.
It barely misses out on the top 3 because the parts that haven't been overhauled end up sticking out as a result. The sidequests are nothing to write home about, and the tedium of the repeats starts to wear after a while. With the way the game is structured, you practically have to repeat its second half for the full experience. But the lack of chapter select, or at least a way to fast-forward when going for endings C onward, end up hurting the momentum of the late game. NieR Automata learned that lesson and included a chapter select, shame it wasn't added here too.
But yeah. Mermaid's great, Ending E's great, the improved gameplay is real solid, definitely an all-around great (but sad!) action RPG.
Rating: I have no mouth and I must fish/10
"You really think YOU should be the one holding that brush?"
Speaking of melancholy, how about that Chicory eh? Easily the most creative game in the list, it's an indie game where you solve puzzles, assist friends and fight battles using the power of paint! Sure, it can be a little jank at times, but it's full of heart and it's got a world that is really fun to explore.
The story's themes contrast with the cute aesthetics of Chicory. The basic premise is that the world needs a brush Wielder to give the world its colors. But the current one is depressed, holed up in her chambers, refusing to do her duty. You, her janitor, naively take the brush with you and take on this duty, with all the expectations and the importer syndromes that come with it.
It's definitely on the bitter-sweet side of games. But if that's what you're looking for, you're definitely going to want to check it out!
Rating: You're going to be just fine/10
"We make games! I make money!"
I have a real soft spot for the WarioWare series. The games are all fun, and do a great job of showcasing the capability of whatever system they come out on.
Get it Together is a curious case, but an enjoyable one. The gimmick doesn't depend on the Switch hardware at all -- just needing a joystick and a button to work. The story mode is also puzzling, with the chapter cutscenes having nothing to do whatsoever with the story.
BUT gimmicks and story modes don't matter in the whole scheme of things. What matters is: Are the microgames fun, and is there enough variety? To both questions, I'm happy to say yes! Switching playable characters give each microgame some appreciated variety, and almost all of them are fun to control as well.
Rating: Not quite Smooth Moves but what game could be?/10
It's free to play, it's not pay to win, it's fun, it's cute. It's Super Auto Pets, and it's my newest phone game of choice! Basically you're trying to build the best combination of critters from random shops, and then you duke it out automatically against other players after every round. It's addictive, and you feel like a genius when you assemble a squad with fun interactions!
Rating: Buy me/Roll me