2021 was a banner year for RPGs that I, Wes, didn’t play. Sure, I made my way around some of the big ones, but all the little hidden gems I’d usually revel in are waiting for 2022 as I spent so much of this year revisiting old favorites for comfort, or via one of the many wonderful remasters and re-releases that came out. So forget my usual top three list; this year, we’re throwing out some superlatives.
The “Oh god I’ll never love anything as much as peak BioWare, will I?” Award – Mass Effect: Legendary Edition
I could have played a lot of new games this year, but instead, I spent over a month of it replaying the entire Mass Effect trilogy for the fifth or sixth time. Yes, the core gameplay still speaks to me. I love the CRPG-lite touch that this era of BioWare thrived in, making decisions that reach across games and befriending (and romancing) all manner of strange and eccentric characters. But this release went the extra mile. The first game saw a ton of tweaks, large and small, but managed to keep the weird soul of the original intact. The shooting is still wonky, and inventory management is still as dense as can be, but it feels downright playable for newbies coming to the series for the first time. Roll in the DLC, which features some of the best moments in the series, including a ton of equipment previously tied to buying snacks or other games that is now seamlessly integrated into the progression of the game. No more overpowered equipment from the jump! Here’s to me replaying this version of the Mass Effect trilogy a half dozen times in the coming years.
The “I know you had to do it, but deep down I’ll never forgive you” Award – Tales of Arise
Listen, Tales of Arise is a revolution for the series. It’s more down to earth and a lot more playable, with gorgeous art, compelling mysteries, and unique gameplay styles that ensure that this is the direction we’ll see the series going in the future. And hey, I get it. It’s good. I know, in my head, my big ol’ logic balloon, that this is a good thing; it’ll lead to us getting all kinds of amazing AAA action RPGs in the future. But I played every other Tales game multiplayer. The series has always been an experience I share with friends. It’s what made the series special to me and is instrumental to why it’s been one of my favorites for over 20 years. I get why multiplayer had to go. It simply wouldn’t mesh with this shiny, excellent new battle system. I know you did what you had to do, Tales. But I’ll always miss what we once had. Maybe I’ll forgive you if you ease up on the DLC.
The “Oops, I’m playing Fort Condor again” Award – Final Fantasy VII Remake Episode INTERmission
Final Fantasy VII Remake was on my game of the year list in 2020, and I don’t regret it at all. It was a wonderful way to bring something new to the franchise without trying to replace the original. It’s a daring game that was willing to do new things and it redefined what a remake could be. The DLC released this year introduces all kinds of excellent ideas, including a unique fighting style for beloved Final Fantasy VII stalwart Yuffie and new duo attacks that allow you to execute exciting, flashy attacks with your partner. But, for me, the real star of the show is Fort Condor. Originally a janky little tower defense game in the original game, this version works as a real-time 1v1 board game where you’re deploying troops to defend your bases and destroy your enemies. Basically, it’s now a fun little tower defense game. You can also collect stronger units for your side, adding a trading card element that my poor little lizard brain cannot resist.
The “Yeah, it still rules” Award – Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker
We’re all still playing it, right? Listen to what everyone else has to say about it. I was contractually obligated to include it on my list.