We had a great batting average last year
Twenty twenty-one probably isn’t going to make the history books as one of humanity’s finest years. From a pandemic that continued to come in waves to Betty White dying on December 31st, it was a rather garbage year. Except for the games. If there was any shining beacon to be found in 2021, it was the games we all enjoyed. And enjoy we did. I mean, in a year with a new Resident Evil, Psychonauts, and Metroid, we gave our game of the year crown to a dog that paints. That’s just how good the games were last year and I hope we’ll be able to say the same about this year come next January. We’ve already posted the list of our most anticipated games of 2022, but in order to truly say goodbye to the past 12 months, we need to take one last look at Destructoid’s most anticipated games of 2021 to see how they turned out.
CJ Andriessen: Fantasian
How did Fantasian, the Apple Arcade exclusive from Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, turn out? Well, let’s see here. I gave both halves of the game an 8/10, it was nominated for Best Mobile Game at the Game Awards, and it won Apple Arcade Game of the Year at the App Store Awards. Oh, it was also named Best Mobile Game right here at Destructoid.
So yeah, it turned out pretty damn great. If you’re still sitting on a free trial of Apple Arcade, you should think about giving it a go. Especially if you love tough-as-nails throwback RPGs with immaculate art direction, an outstanding score, and some innovative ideas for the genre.
Jonathan Holmes: No More Heroes 3
I’m still thinking about No More Heroes 3.
That’s partly because I see new fan art of the game nearly every day. It came out about five months ago now, but it’s still sparking new ideas in the minds of players. It’s not all good, though. The game left us with so many questions unanswered, so much potential yet to be tapped. And we’re sad that the series is over. But like with the Mother franchise, it almost feels like No More Heroes belongs to the fans now. Those unanswered questions are open spaces for our minds to play in, and that play might last forever.
Of course, if and when I get to interview Suda51 again, I’m going to get as many official answers to those questions as I can. Why is Travis wearing a neckbrace, bandages, and boxer shorts in the opening cutscene? Why does the U.I. sometimes look like a Twitch streamer’s split-screen setup? Why do you enter a pile of flower petals before starting a boss fight? Why is there a visual novel subplot about dead magical girls, and what does Travis do with their compact? Who was that man who walked into traffic? What would Flemming from Shadows of the Damned have looked like if he had made it to the game? And that’s not even half of the questions I have backed up and ready to go.
Hopefully, I’ll get to ask them someday and help contribute to the Grasshopper Manufacture community’s greater understanding of what exactly the heck is going on in No More Heroes 3. In the meantime, I’ll keep thinking about it just for fun because it’s one of my favorite games of 2021.
Zoey Handley: Evil Genius 2: World Domination
Well, I liked it. I loved the original Evil Genius and was hopeful that the sequel would fix its glaring problems. And I think it did! It’s paced better, it allows you to feel more diabolical, but it retains a lot of what made the original fun. It even managed to tie in better characters. I had to really focus to get it finished for review, but I absolutely loved the experience.
It did decently well with others in the press, but it currently is at 65% positive for user reviews on Steam. What? There’s a wide range of complaints and many of them are completely contrary to the praise I have for Evil Genius 2. Ahh, well. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure horde. I just find it disappointing for two reasons: first, I want the series to continue, and a poor reaction puts that at risk. Second, I loved Evil Genius 2 and I want others to share in that love.
Do me a favor. The next time you feel like punishing our uncaring society, maybe pick up Evil Genius 2. I need validation.
Josh Tolentino: Sakura Revolution
[Cries in “Shut down 6 months after launch.”]
Not that getting hyped for a wife casino was ever a “sure bet”, but honestly, as a Sakura Wars fan, this was kind of a blow. The game didn’t even make it far enough to implement the planned characters based on Hololive Vtubers Shirakami Fubuki and Houshou Marine!
And by all indications, the early reception to Sakura Revolution was quite positive! Unfortunately, it was also expensive to develop, based on every available public source. Gacha games like Sakura Revolution live and die by their ability to build a reasonably sustainable audience before the team exhausts their initial “runway” of content and funding. Making a pretty game likely shortens that runway by a fair bit.
Not to mention, the gacha scene itself is stratifying as older, established games shift into audience-retention mode, leaving less room for new apps to capture a slice of the pie. Launching into the teeth of a global pandemic that makes everyone think twice about rolling the dice on their favorite JPEGs can’t have helped matters, either. And so Sakura Revolution was shut down, replaced by an offline archive-style app for existing players to replay story scenes or voice lines from.
At least Sakura Wars itself lives on. Sega doesn’t seem to have backed off its plans to keep the brand alive, though nothing concrete’s been announced as of yet.
Chris Moyse: Bright Memory: Infinite
I do not, generally, have a good track record with these annual “anticipated game” articles. I don’t know what to tell you. It is what it is… I don’t get in a wild tizzy at the prospect of shoo-in releases from The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, or The Last of Us. I just tend to get more excited about the stuff sneaking in from the little guys — the unfortunate dice roll being that, sometimes, these leap of faiths don’t always quite turn out quite how you might have hoped.
All that said, it must be made clear that Studio-FYQD’s Bright Memory: Infinite is not “bad.” In fact, it’s very good. The Battle Angel: Alita-like FPS blends smooth melee combat with punchy shooter mechanics, all wrapped up in an intriguing dystopian dose of cinematic sci-fi. Ultimately, what lets the title down is that it still feels like something of a proof-of-concept rather than a fully realized idea, and given that the original Bright Memory was also something of a proof-of-concept, FYQD’s 2021 iteration only impresses as “the next stage of development” rather than “project complete.”
It should be fully clarified that Bright Memory: Infinite, while not quite the release I was hoping for, is absolutely a success in regards to scope and design. Almost entirely the work of a single individual, Shelia’s lead-flinging journey is visually stunning, mechanically sound, and offers gameplay design equal to that of the biggest AAA studios alongside visuals that, frankly, surpass many contemporaries. For its flaws, Bright Memory: Infinite is a triumph of design and solidifies Studio-FYQD as one of the scene’s most talented and ambitious developers.
I look forward to their future endeavors.
Darren Nakamura: Frosthaven
It didn’t come out! It turns out a global supply chain crisis has a big effect on thirty pounds of printed cardboard and plastic, and of course, a game of this scope needs all sorts of playtesting and proofing. It’s scheduled for this year now, and it sounds like it’s much closer to crossing the finish line, so we can actually expect it now when 2021 was a lot of wishful thinking. At the very least, designer Isaac Childres was at PAX Unplugged last month showing off the new features and playable classes. I tried out a demo session, and although it was set at too easy a difficulty for experienced players, it was fun! So, here’s to my most anticipated game of 2022.
Eric Van Allen: Tales of Arise
I had a few anticipated games this year, but Tales of Arise was certainly the highest on my list. And thankfully, the renewal of the formula found the perfect balance.
It’s still incredible how Tales of Arise manages to balance convention and new ideas, bringing the Tales series into new levels of production and scale while also retaining the action RPG systems that have made it stand out. While it still fell prey to some classic Tales issues like a third-act lull, the sheer style and incredible story it tells were well worth the wait. As a new Tales, it’s certainly set the series up for a bright future ahead.
Jordan Devore: Elden Ring
I felt a bit of electrified hype typing out the words Elden Ring just now, but it’s not out yet. And while I definitely went out on a limb with this pick last year — we didn’t know the release date yet, much less the slightly pushed-back date — it’s almost ready.
I was fortunate enough to get into the closed test, so I’ve died a shitload to the wandering Tree Sentinel warrior who taunts you immediately following those first steps into the open world. The newfound freedom with this format is already enticing to me as someone who loves to ~explore~ these games more than anything, and I’ve got high hopes for the more magic-tinged combat as well after messing around with some of the flashier options and facing the beta’s castle-guarding big-boy boss. What a fun moveset to figure out!
It’s hard to have reasonable expectations given From’s pedigree, so I won’t even try.
Chris Carter: Resident Evil Village
Well, Resident Evil Village won one of our biggest Game of the Year awards in 2021, so that’s all folks! I probably won this round.
But seriously, while Village was a bit more “boulder punching” camp compared to the very eerie Resident Evil 7, a lot of people really took to Village in a big way. It had a few traditional extras and took some cues from Resident Evil 4, which isn’t a bad game to copy notes from. And hey, I wanted more Chris Redfield, and I got it!
It’ll be interesting to see where Capcom takes the series from here, but between RE7 and Village, they have a lot of feedback for what people actually want to see. I’m happy the series is still relevant: I was pretty worried when Resident Evil 6 came out!
Anthony Marzano: NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139…
I missed the original Nier releases back in the Seventh Generation, so I was one of those Nier fans going into Replicant 1.22. My only exposure to the series was Automata, but the bleak story and world resonated with the Charlie Kaufman and Patricia Highsmith fans within me. So the chance to go back and see how the tragic tale all started was exciting for me. From the opening credits where a haunting choir sang minor chords as I watched “snow” fall on a summer day in Tokyo, I knew I was in for another painful ride. What awaited me went beyond all I could have hoped for.
Not knowing much of the original story, I expected to see more of the same themes presented in Automata. A treatise on the banality of war and how it destroys all that it touches with a dash of “don’t trust the government.” What I didn’t expect was that Automata was Taro writing a “happier” story and that Replicant was the writer letting out all his sadness and anger about the American-Led War on Terror with no buffer.
The experience was only deepened as the real world acted as backing vocal to this sad song. The concept of a world ravaged by disease and pandemic was all too real for me as I worked through the game in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. The bigger gut-punch came as I was working on Route B in August. As I watched and read of the fall of the Afghanistan Government, the lessons and warnings of Replicant’s story only became more evident. I was watching families flee in fear for their lives in the real world while reading passages of Shades wondering why they were being slaughtered. It hurt, to the point where I had to stop playing for a few weeks because it was like touching a raw wire of emotion. Though I was able to return to the game, the constant reminder of the real world peeking out from behind the curtain never left me.
To put it bluntly, I don’t think NieR: Replicant ver 1.22 could have come out at a better point in history to drive its point home. As the world around us slowly dies, we need to take its allegory of hatred and division as only a destroyer to heart, lest we want to end up like its tragic cast.
So yeah, my most anticipated game of the year was about as good as it could have been on both gaming and meta-levels. Oh yeah, also the music was totally banger. Ok, I’m gonna go cry now.
Those were our staff picks, but how did your most anticipated games of 2021 fare? Be honest: did you even get around to playing them? We won’t judge!