Retro Encounter Game of the Year: Mother 3
Mother 3 blew me away. After multiple failed attempts to play it, I’m beyond happy our Retro Encounter episodes finally encouraged me to get around to it. Mother 3 is a stone-cold masterpiece and surpasses EarthBound in almost every way. I could go on and on about the brilliant music, the surprisingly unique combat, and even the graphics. And the crushingly beautiful family dynamics. But ultimately, it was the game’s pointed but somehow still subtle takedown of late-era capitalism that struck me. In a moment where we increasingly see how human lives are insignificant in the face of larger corporate interests, Mother 3 is a revelation, and one I won’t soon forget.
Best Visual Novel of the Year: Necrobarista
Despite not actually being the biggest fan of visual novels, I seem to find myself playing a fairly large number for review around here. Their often opaque choice mechanics and ridiculous characters usually put me off.
But Necrobarista? It’s not doing any of that. It eschews almost every convention of the typical VN to tell a beautiful, heartrending story about the significance of our connections to each other and helped me come to terms with some deaths in my family this year. Maybe even more importantly, it does all of it with such style. I’ve said more than a few times: Necrobarista is the most visually stunning and “well shot” (for lack of a better term) game I’ve ever played. I stand by that. That it has a genuinely outstanding soundtrack to go along with it is just a bonus.
Best Remake of the Year: Final Fantasy VII Remake
Okay, I hated the ending. There, I said it. I feel pretty alone on this among RPGFan staff, but I could go on and on about everything that doesn’t work about it for me. In fact, I already did.
It doesn’t really matter, though. Final Fantasy VII Remake is a remarkable achievement on basically every other front. I’ve been following RPGs for the better part of 25 years now, and I can’t remember a game that had as much hype and expectation, and frankly, expectation of disappointment. Somehow, it exceeded almost anyone’s expectations. The combat satisfies people like me, who prefer a more turn-based, tactical affair, and also those looking for something more kinetic and action-driven. It effectively reproduced all the significant moments from Midgar while also taking its own spin. It looks and sounds amazing. Most importantly to me, though, is how the characters are fleshed out much more effectively, but in a way that feels true to the original vision of the game. Aerith is still sweet, sure, but all her tough self-assurance shines through. Barret’s love for his daughter is all the more apparent. While I may be apprehensive about the direction of the games going forward, I know one thing will keep me coming back: the characters.
Best Remaster of the Year: Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition
As much as I ultimately enjoyed Final Fantasy VII Remake, the best Remake/Remaster I played this year is undoubtedly Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition. And why not? There wasn’t much to fix here. The music, the world design, the story, the characters…all of them already here, and all of them already outstanding. All this version had to do was punch up the graphics, add a few quality of life improvements, and otherwise maintain what is great about the original release. And it does just that. Now excuse me while I go stare at a star shower in Eryth Sea.
Game (RPG) of the Year: Yakuza: Like a Dragon
I’m really not much of a Yakuza expert. While I’ve certainly been interested in previous games, the beat-em-up aspects aren’t all that appealing to me, and while I enjoyed Judgment, it didn’t wow me enough to pull me into the series.
Now, I will spend all of 2021 playing Yakuza.
Luckily, Like a Dragon is a perfect jumping-in point for a newcomer like me. Even without much knowledge of Yakuza, I could see the nods to the rest of the series. Otherwise, it’s almost like someone designed a game for my tastes. Ridiculous, over-the-top side quests? Check. A vibrant city to explore? Check. Dynamic turn-based combat with a few timing-based elements thrown in? Check. A full party of lovingly developed characters? Check. But most of all, a protagonist who cares deeply about his friends, his principles, and most delightfully, Dragon Quest? Yes.
A lot of games moved me this year, but only one has turned me into a devotee of an entire series, and for that, Yakuza: Like a Dragon is my Game of the Year.