Game of the Year – Deltarune: Chapter 2
With every new game Toby Fox releases, he successfully iterates on his signature style even more. Deltarune Chapter 2 is as madcap as ever, but in a medium where comedy usually feels forced or unintentional, it is rare to play something so genuinely gut-busting. Maybe this is why people connect so deeply with Toby Fox’s characters; he understands depth doesn’t come from suffering or backstory alone, but also relatability. So many RPGs, and video games, should take this to heart.
Combat remains thoughtful, and Chapter 2 improves over Chapter 1 in its variety, including some jaw-dropping boss encounters. So if you have the time, don’t wait for the whole thing; get on this train now. Your ticket is free (thanks Toby).
Almost Game of the Year…of the Year – Monster Hunter Rise
Monster Hunter Rise is a slick and triumphant return to handhelds for the Monster Hunter franchise. It retains the quality of life improvements from Monster Hunter: World, adds fun tweaks with Palamutes and silkbind moves, and runs fantastically whether docked or undocked. After putting World down following a 200-hour binge in the game’s opening month in 2018, I was ready to dive headfirst into Rise with a cohort of friends hungry for the grind.
Somewhere along the way to perfection, though, something happened. The balance between old and new that had been perfectly calibrated in World had been too greatly unsettled. Palamutes made traversal, map knowledge, and healing trivial, and silkbind moves turned even the most intimidating foe into a punching bag. What is there to grind for if you’re already the apex predator? When the grind is the game, how far can you go in empowering the player before they lose interest?
Within a few weeks, my Rise group had effectively disbanded. “We’ll wait for the real endgame to drop.” We’re still waiting.
2021 RPG I will definitely finish…next year – Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi
After I played Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey in 2020, I promised myself that my time of reckoning with dungeon crawlers was coming. It did not quite come in 2021, but I did put a couple of dozen hours into Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi in October and had a blast. With far less of a focus on narrative, characterization, or other standard RPG stuff, and more emphasis on the hazards and secrets of the sprawling dungeon, Undernauts gives me a good taste of the other side of the DRPG spectrum.
Souls of the Year – ENDER LILIES: Quietus of the Knights
ENDER LILIES makes you feel properly weak, just like any good Souls game does. You are a frail child, absorbing the spirits of the powerful (like Mega Man does) and commanding them to do her bidding. You can’t even dodge without flailing pathetically onto the ground. It’s wonderful. The locales are oppressive, and the locals are mad, too.
It has so many of the ingredients for a tremendous Souls game. Moody fantasy world deeply afflicted by an existential plague? Check. A minimalist script where you can only vaguely assume you’re the hero? Check. Combat heavily predicated on dodge timings and small windows of attack opportunity? Oh man, do you even have to ask. If you think any of this is sarcasm, you would be mistaken. As the Soulslike genre evolves, it is interesting to see how new games like ENDER LILIES alter or stick to the formula.