Whether we like it or not, 2020 is going to be a historic year for a bunch of reasons. The start of the 2020s is forever shadowed by the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on everything, including the video game industry. Despite all this, 2020 still managed to push out some great games and, more than once, left me with nostalgic memories thanks to a large number of enhanced ports and remakes. I couldn’t get around to everything (staring at my copy of Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition), but I did have a great time this year playing through a good number of games. Anyone wondering where Final Fantasy VII Remake is, I told myself that’s going to be a future project when the entire package is out. Even if I have to wait another 3+ years for it.
Light Triumphs Over Dark! – Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore, Sakura Wars
You know, sometimes I don’t mind when a game’s story isn’t overly serious. Sometimes, all I want is to hang out with a fun cast of characters and engage in some hijinks. There’s enough to worry about in today’s world, so it’s great to unwind with a silly game every so often. I got to do that this year with Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore and Sakura Wars. Both of these games’ stories are light-hearted fun, and the characters are endearing even with some of their more cookie-cutter personalities. These games put a smile on my face that was much needed this year for well-established reasons.
WHAT IS HAPPENING?! x100 – 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim
On the opposite end of the storytelling in games spectrum is 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim. I will admit, I wouldn’t have paid any attention to this game without multiple promotions from fellow RPGFan editors since I started at RPGFan in May of 2017. I am so glad I went out of my way to pick it up when it came out this year. This is one of the best overall stories I’ve experienced in any medium. Whatever you think this game is on the surface, it’s so much more than that. “Teenagers in mechs defending Earth from invading aliens” is the summary I’m forced to use when I try to talk up this game, and it doesn’t do it justice. Think of your favourite Western sci-fi classics like Terminator, Total Recall, E.T., and others. Now think of Japanese sci-fi anime like Neon Genesis Evangelion and Ghost in the Shell, along with a sprinkling of shoujo manga, and it’s likely some element of each inspired this epic. Every time you think you’re getting the big picture of the story, 13 Sentinels laughs at you and throws in another revelation that destroys your theory. The amount of times I audibly asked myself, “what in the actual f*** is going on?!” is a stat I lost track of. This game’s story really should be an incoherent mess with the multiple characters and time travel, but the simple fact that it’s not is a testament to the way the story is told. When you finally have the necessary pieces of information and everything starts to come together, that’s when you realize the brilliant way Vanillaware set up this narrative.
One of Japan’s Best VAs – Saori Hayami
I could shout-out more of Japan’s voice actors, but Saori Hayami dominated my entire year with roles in almost every game I played. Starting right at the beginning of the year with Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE (Caeda), and straight through to Rune Factory 4 Special (Pico), Sakura Wars (Claris), and ending with 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim (Ryoko Shinonome). While all of her roles were good, her performance as Claris is my favourite from this year. Claris feels like a character created for Saori Hayami, since she usually plays the role of the mature and gentle characters in anime. Pico and Ryoko Shinonome are characters outside of her usual typecast roles, showcasing her ability to voice a variety of characters.
Top 5 Games of 2020:
One of the themes that emerged when I put down my list of my top games of 2020 was how well they did their supporting characters. These games have a large cast of characters that all feel important to their respective stories, and these games allow their supporting cast room to breathe and come into their own.
5) Sakura Wars
The winner of my “most anime game of the year” award, Sakura Wars provides all of the hype and emotions of the best shounen anime out there. With plot armour, power of friendship moments, bath scene hijinks, emotional yelling, and playing the main theme during comeback moments had all of the trappings of classic shounen works. In all seriousness, I did have a special attachment to this game right away thanks to its strong cast of colourful characters. After the ending, I started again just to spend more time with the cast, and I even watched the TV anime sequel despite the fact I hadn’t watched a recent anime for over three years.
4) Rune Factory 4 Special
Rune Factory 4 is easily one of my favourite 3DS games, so a re-release of it on Switch was almost guaranteed to make the list of top games of the year for me. While it does show its age, the quirky residents of this lively town still make an impression in the graphics department years later. Falling out of the sky onto the dragon Ventuswill, getting your farm, and discovering the mystery that lies outside of town filled me with nostalgia from my playing the original in university. This has been my farming sim of choice ever since it came out, so I’m looking forward to seeing it continue into the new decade.
3) Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore
While Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore doesn’t have the most developed cast of characters, it makes up for it with a strong battle system and catchy J-pop soundtrack. A celebration of the Japanese entertainment industry, Tokyo Mirage Sessions is just out to have a fun time. With a combat system that still gets me excited just thinking about it, TMS is still a seriously underrated game even after its second life on Switch.
2) Persona 5 Royal
Persona 5 Royal proves just how many improvements you can make to a game that was already fantastic. P5R fixes many complaints players had with the pacing of vanilla Persona 5, namely the lack of free time after exploring dungeons and during the introduction to each new arc of the story. Grinding is much easier thanks to changes in one of your Confidant’s skills, so players who have played through Persona 5 can quickly get ahead and get to new content. P5R introduces an amazing final villain alongside a new beloved teammate. P5R also makes changes to your primary rival from Persona 5, making him one of my favourite characters. Persona 5 Royal is one of the best JRPGs out there and should be a must-play for all fans of the genre.
1) 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim
I’m not a big fan of adventure/visual novel games, so having one as my Game of the Year is a shock even to me. Since I haven’t played games like this (similar games include Danganronpa and the Zero Escape series if comparisons are to be trusted), 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim was a unique experience. That was ultimately the tipping point when I was debating between this game and Persona 5 Royal. 13 Sentinels gave me an engaging narrative from minute one and never took its foot off the gas. Every 15 minutes had a new revelation for me to wrap my head around, and I just wanted to keep playing so I could find out the truth. Once the game freed you from the tutorial battles, the gameplay opened up into an addicting RTS system. As a fan of strategy games and watching hundreds of enemies fall before me, being able to control what were essentially hero units from an RTS game brought a smile to my face. As if this weren’t enough, the game is stunningly beautiful with its well-drawn 2D sprites, amazing lighting, and magnificent backdrops. A stellar sound profile is the absolute icing on the cake, with spectacular English and Japanese dubs and a soundtrack that I’m extremely tempted to drop money on when it releases next year. I feel like 13 Sentinels has been completely slept on by the gaming community at large, and it deserves a lot more recognition than it has received.