2021, much like 2020, was an absolute shit-show and I’m glad it’s over. It’s not like January 1st opens a roll of Mentos and a clean slate begins, but at least it gives me an excuse to look back on some of my favorite gaming experiences throughout the year.
Before doing so, I wanted to mention that there were quite a few games I just didn’t get around to or even pick up myself. Astalon: Tears of the Earth, Steel Assault, Inscryption, Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights, Grime, Metroid Dread, Shin Megami Tensei V, Sable, Eastward, Loop Hero, Everhood, Mundaun, Sable, Blue Reflection 2, The Caligula Effect 2, NEO The World Ends With You, Tales of Arise, Scarlet Nexus, The Artful Escape, Axiom Verge 2, Black Book, Kaze and the Wild Masks, Biomutant… the list goes on.
I only have so much money and so much free time, after all. But, at least now you know why none of those made the cut.
No list would be complete without honorable mentions, right? I’ll keep it brief.
I’m incredibly late to the Hades party but it was released on Xbox Game Pass this year and I’m having a blast. I see what all the fuss was about.
I seemed to enjoy Outriders more than most, at least the campaign aspect. I had a great time with it until the end-game grind became an absolute slog. It was the perfect Game Pass game because I never would have played it otherwise.
Boyfriend Dungeon maybe had my favorite soundtrack of the year and I really loved the characters and dating aspect, but the dungeon crawling and combat mechanics were super weak.
Resident Evil Village would likely be in the top 10 if I actually played it myself, but so far I’ve only managed to watch a few Let’s Plays and speedruns.
I’ve never been one for roguelikes but a friend of mine (the lovely Food 4 Dogs) recommended Ring of Pain to me since we were both jumped around in different Game Pass games. I’m glad I did because it ended up being a lot of fun — and incredibly weird.
Art of Rally is another Game Pass game that I never would have checked out otherwise and there was a time when I was sure it would end up in my top 10. It’s just a fun low-poly, almost top-down rally racer with loads to collect, unlock, and do.
I love me some old-school shmups and Crisis Wing tried to out-Truxton Truxton. It’s a damn fun and challenging game and one I’ll likely go back to every so often.
And finally, VirtuaVerse was a surprising release this year since you don’t see too many point-and-click adventure games releasing on consoles. I loved its music and cyberpunk aesthetic but found the characters and narrative kind of lacking.
Okay, top 10 time! I’ll keep these brief too because I’m short on time!
10. Ys IX: Monstrum Nox
After LOVING Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, I was surprised by how dull I was finding the long-running action RPG’s ninth entry. Going from exploring a massive, beautiful island to being confined to a generic-ass coloring in the lines castle town was incredibly disappointing.
I always enjoyed the gameplay, which improved on VIII quite a bit, but the setting really held the game back from being something truly special. Even when I got to explore outside of its walls it was usually just an equally generic cave or grassy field.
There are some fun characters and traversal abilities, some really cool narrative beats with twists and turns, and (again) the combat is a blast to play. Ys IX received a performance boost patch on PS5 so this is one I’d like to play again in the future with my expectations more in check.
9. The Procession to Calvary
Another point-and-click adventure on consoles in 2021?! The Procession to Calvary is a breath of fresh air in the genre, building its entire world out of real-world renaissance paintings.
Unique aesthetic aside, the narrative is cleverly written and had my partner and I burst into laughter during nearly every dialogue exchange.
8. Flynn: Son of Crimson
I think this one being a metroidvania-lite had a lot to do with my overall enjoyment of it. All of the weapons, abilities, and characters are pretty solid and I’ll never tire of 2D pixel art games.
It was six hours well spent and a great way to kill a weekend.
Moving sucks, unpacking sucks, but the game Unpacking is actually quite good. It tells a moving story without spelling anything out for you, instead letting you piece things together by unpacking boxes and placing their contents around the central character’s living quarters.
It’s a novel idea for a game and brilliantly executed.
6. Cross the Moon
I love a good visual novel and Cross the Moon wasn’t even on my radar until I was given access to review it. It’s a visual novel in the literal sense, but I didn’t mind having no input into the outcome of the story.
If you like vampires, murder mysteries, sexiness, and horror, this is one to check out.
5. Fatum Betula
One of the most bizarre horror games I’ve ever played, Fatum Betula looks like a PSOne game and is equally cryptic. There are multiple endings that require you to obtain different types of liquid through various means and feed them to the life tree.
It doesn’t sound very interesting, but I assure you, this game is weird in all the right ways. It’s not scary or spooky, but thematically unsettling.
4. Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster
Some folks don’t like adding remasters to these types of lists, but I don’t give a shit. Nocturne was one of the best RPGs on PS2 and I consider it to even be one of the best of all time. Having it remastered on modern consoles is a great way to experience it.
There are multiple endings, and deep battle system, a “goth boy” Pokemon mechanic that requires you to recruit and use demons during combat, and the narrative lets you play, support, or destroy gods.
3. Forza Horizon 5
I don’t usually gravitate to racing games, especially the simulations, but the Horizon series hooked me with its third entry. I finally managed to find an Xbox Series X just a few weeks before the release of this one and since Game Pass kicks ass I didn’t even have to buy it. It was there day one.
Forza Horizon 5 consumed me for the weeks following its release. If I had spare time I was playing it, exploring Mexico to track down collectibles, compete in events, unlock new cars, hitting stunt ramps, and just being in awe of how beautiful it looked on my fancy new console.
Another Twitter friend (CrazyJuan) kept recommending this to me whenever I mentioned looking for a game to play. I put it off and put it off before finally pulling the trigger, and man… what a game.
In any other year where my #1 pick didn’t release, this would have been at the top of my list. It’s a brilliantly designed metroidvania that’s clearly inspired by A Link to the Past, but with the added stress of time management. You can approach your goals in any order you wish, backtracking to earlier areas after obtaining new traversal skills and weapons, and the overall world design is incredible.
It’s on Game Pass, but even if you don’t have a subscription then play it wherever you can. It’s one of the best metroidvanias I’ve played.
1. Disco Elysium: The Final Cut
I know, I know, Disco Elysium released on PC years ago, but I don’t careeee. It was released on PS4 in 2021.
Perhaps the most well-written RPG I’ve ever played that truly put the “role” in role-playing. Incredible characters and narrative paths that can be altered depending on your statistics and abilities, which just begs for additional playthroughs. The narration is top-notch and the music elevates it to amazing heights.
I was at one of my lowest points in 2021 when I found out my oldest cat, who has been with me since 2004, developed breast cancer. I was stressed and depressed every second of every day while she slowly recovered from surgery. She had to be confined to our bedroom so we could keep an eye on her and the one thing that helped distract me was playing through Disco Elysium while she slept on my lap.
It was the perfect combination of playing a great game and playing a great game when I needed it most. Her cancer hasn’t returned because she kicked its ass.
And there you have it: my 10 favorite games of 2021 and a few more that I thought were worth mentioning.
What were YOUR favorite games from last year?