As 2021 is coming to a close, join me in remembering my personal gaming highlights. I promise it will be worth your while. Perhaps it will even be entertaining. As always, feel free to laugh about my gaming choices and opinions. Better yet, why not tell me about yours in the comments or on social media? Oh, please keep in mind that not all of what’s coming below was released in 2021. It just made a difference to me this year!
Time to get it out!
Ok, let’s start this with a personal confession about my backlog. I don’t know about your gaming habits, but mine can be a little strange. You see, I’m a rather emotional gamer and sometimes have to stop playing games when the story takes a direction I can’t stomach. That happened in Xenoblade Chronicles when Fiora met her demise. I had to put down the game on my New Nintendo 3DS and had to return to it when the game came to Switch. For a similar reason I had to stop playing Oninaki. The story about death drained me too much to continue playing.
Why am I telling you this? Well, there are also some games I haven’t even started after getting them on day one. The most prominent of this would be Astral Chain. I remember opening the box and removing the cartridge. Then some other games came along and took my attention. Oh well, this might be a good New Year’s resolution: Finally play this game!
Let’s turn our attention to what made me tick this year. The first game to make an impression on me was Carrion. This lovely escape-from-confinement platformer took my breath away. The story is nice, the pixel art is bloody and the fun of playing the monster made this game a joy.
The next game to impress me was Immortals Fenix Rising. With exploration en masse, a lore of Greek mythology, intriguing puzzles and battles and no breaking weapons there is a lot to love. The difficulty setting ranges from story over easy to hard, so it is also highly accessible.
The backlog called and wanted me to play more of Octopath Traveler. The reason I got back into the game was browsing through the lovely English edition of the Japanese guide/artbook published by Dark Horse. I still didn’t finish all the eight routes, but I’m happy to report that all characters’ 2nd chapters have been finished even if I got obliterated in the first few battles. Returning to an RPG can be so hard if you forget most of the battle system’s details.
Back to something more modern. I sold both the game and guide of its predecessor because the game just didn’t click with me, but Dragon Quest Builders 2 finally did. This time, the blend of Dragon Quest and Minecraft proved to be effective to block me in front of the screen. I’d say the quality of life improvements as well as the whacky story were highly effective.
Contrary to other writers for this magazine, I don’t have an extensive background of playing Super Mario games. With Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury, I’m now fond of two games of this franchise. It was great fun to play with my kids, even if I had to play some levels alone because it was too hard to coordinate ourselves at times.
Let’s take a look at another game coming from my backlog. I’m happy to say that I finally finished Xenoblade Chronicles 2 after a total of just over 100 hours. I had already gone to Elysium before I stopped ages ago simply because I didn’t want the game to end. This year I saw it through and I’m glad I did. It was great!
Needless to say that I immediately started Torna-The Golden Country right afterwards. It was a well-told and very sad story about what it means to be alive and to remember. It’s an emotional prequel to everything happening in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and deserves to be played. Also, it’s only about thirty hours long.
Time for something cute and funny: Space Otter Charlie fitted the bill and turned out to be an otterly enjoyable puzzle platformer. Not too hard, neither too easy. Perfect lenght for the solo campaign and a nice multiplayer mode, too.
While we’re at fish-eating animals, I had a tremendous blast playing Maneater, a game that sees you as a shark on its watery way to vengeance. It’s brutally over the top, has a wonderful evolutionary skill tree and more collectibles hidden in its open world than you can shake your fin at. The writing’s hillarious, too!
None can refuse to admit that 2021 was the year of the Monster Hunter franchise. First, we got Monster Hunter: Rise, made specifically for Switch and abandoning the separate areas prevalent in its predecessors. No other Monster Hunter has touched me that hard before, even if parts of the game had to be added after its release via updates. I’m so hyped for the next extension-hopefully with G-rank-coming next summer.
Then we got Monster Hunter Stories 2, which turned out to be a perfect sequel to the 3DS game. It was so nice to get back to adventuring with your pawtner Navirou that I lost myself in collecting monster eggs and the rock/paper/scissors-style battle system. A lot of returning monsters and new additions from Rise made collecting monsties as worth my time as did the fresh online multiplayer quests.
Back to the real world, or whatever world is real in NEO: The World Ends With You. This action adventure taking place in a part of Tokyo was intriguing because of its references to Japanese youth culture and fashion. Its soundtrack was a further reason for not putting down the game. Engaging story, punching combat and blasting songs-what’s not to like?
Just like last year, this year’s events demanded a wholesome game to kick back and just enjoy. A game about life, love, death and remembrance. A game to celebrate the time we have on this planet. Haven Park was this game for me. It was short and bittersweet. An update has since been released opening up a new area to explore.
In a stark and complete contrast, Mary Skelter: Finale proved to be a bloody dungeon crawler par excellence. Violent, gory and heartwarming at the same time, crawling through the levels solving puzzles was both intriguing and fun. I can see myself returning to this gme once more in future.
We started this end-of-year review with a horror game, so it is only fitting to end it with one as well. And what a great one! Project Zero: Maiden Of Black Water is creepy, scary and well-written. It’s also action-packed and full of photo opportunities. Well, the game’s objective is to take photos of ghosts, so no wonder about this one. I really hope that more gamers discover this game originally developed for the WiiU.
You didn’t think that only games would leave an impression on me this year, right? Of course not. At least not when artbooks, game guides and soundtrack CDs are still being published.
Let’s start off this section with the Monster Hunter Orchestra Concert 2020. A good concert, as usual, but so weird to listen to, because it had to be performed without an audience. It’s great music, but it simply isn’t the same without people present. Since this year’s concert had to be performed and recorded under similar circumstances, I don’t have high hopes for its’ CD, either.
Want an uplifting, catchy sound? NEO: The World Ends With You has you covered! Capcom released the full soundtrack with 53 songs and a playing time of over three hours. Definitely worth the money and waiting time ordering from their European store.
I’ve already mentioned the guide to Octopath Traveler above. It is a faithful localisation of the Japanese one but published as a hardcover for added stability. It’s also slightly larger than the Japanese original. The fonts used inside are still on the small side, though.
Before leaving you to ponder all of this, just one more thing. Dark Horse has published Art of Mana, another faithful localisation of a Japanese artbook. If you, like me, have a sweet spot for the Mana franchise, I can fully recommend getting it. It’s my artbook of 2021.