I initially thought that the strength of video games in 2021 might make it difficult to choose favorites. Yet, as the year went on, I felt that assessment was getting easier rather than more difficult. I missed plenty of titles in 2021 that I’m aiming to come back to in 2022, especially in terms of RPGs and indies. But I only had so much bandwidth for video games this year, which had already been consumed by some incredible stuff. My top three games of 2021 are the ones that I’ll keep thinking about for a while after I’ve played them, which in my opinion is the mark of something truly great.
1. Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker
I knew that Endwalker was probably going to be my game of the year, but what I didn’t expect was how much it would have an impact on how I thought about storytelling in video games. Although it suffers from some of the trappings of its MMORPG design in terms of pacing, the narrative that unravels throughout the latest expansion is heartfelt, tragic, and courageously conclusive. It brings together story threads from over a decade of purposeful narrative design and weaves them together into one consistently exciting and emotional ending.
2. The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles
There’s a reason why I’ve had Barok Van Zieks as my header image on Twitter for the past four months. It’s not just because he’s dreamy in that pale vampire lord kind of way, but also because The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles has lived rent-free in my head ever since I started playing it. If it weren’t for the game I placed above this one, there’s a lot about The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles that is pure GOTY material for me, even though it technically released in Japan back in 2015. This collection isn’t just a superb localisation and repackaging of two of the best Ace Attorney games — it’s also a dramatic and hilarious adventure through Victorian England that pays loving tribute to culture, historical events, and artwork from that period of history and beyond. It’s an impressively written game that made me fall in love with Ace Attorney all over again.
3. Lost Judgment
If you’ve read my recent feature on Lost Judgment, you’ll know that I dipped out of the main story in favour of the side content early on, which was an excellent decision. I did eventually get back to Lost Judgment’s main narrative, and although I think there are some unusual missteps, I ultimately appreciated where it went and how it further evolved the characters of Yagami and his fellow detectives. Underneath the general structural messiness is a compelling story about morality and societal stigma. However, Lost Judgment truly shines in its gameplay, crafting the finest action RPG system in a Ryu ga Gotoku Studio game by far.