Early Access Game of the Year: Pokémon Scarlet & Violet
People like to say that Nintendo is old-fashioned, behind the times, and even a bit of a dinosaur. Sure, their online infrastructure may be old enough to vote, they make you jump through hoops just to try to voice chat, and friend codes… still exist. However, after taking some notes from industry juggernauts, Nintendo has had a sudden change of heart. They’ve decided to embrace the future of modern gaming by releasing a completely broken and unfinished product at full price. Who needs polish when you have 10 million sales in 3 days? QA? What kind of Pokémon is that? Does it print money? No? To hell with it.
Pokémon Scarlet & Violet is perhaps one of the buggiest games I’ve played in years. It’s a game that clearly needed six more months in the oven, at the very least. Yet despite the framerate tanking as low as the original release of The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, lighting bugs, clipping issues, user interfaces breaking, and numerous crashes, locks, and freezes, the game is actually incredibly fun. It’s ambitious, with a wondrous world that lives and breathes with dozens of Pokémon around every corner. The story is charming, the characters are endearing, and the new Pokémon are absolutely lovable. It’s just a shame that the game feels so rushed. It’s a great experience overall, and if you need a coping mechanism to get you through it, just consider it an Early Access game. Who knows, by the time you complete the Pokedex, they might patch it.
Open-World Rehabilitation of the Year: Elden Ring
Open worlds have frustrated me for a long, long time because companies like Ubisoft took the open world concept and completely broke it. A million icons on the map, climbable towers meant to disperse the fog of war, and a nigh-infinite pile of useless collectibles hidden behind every corner. Before I knew it, a great concept was beaten down, commoditized, and shoved into every modern AAA project. It got to the point where I reactively groaned whenever I saw “open world” attached to an RPG. I was completely sick of it, and it seemed like there was no hope for a burned-out soul like me.
And then Elden Ring came along.
At first, I was cautious, as the concept of “Open World Dark Souls But Big” seemed… off-putting. Yet, FromSoftware managed to wrest control of the open world concept from the big players in the industry, redefine it, reshape it into what they believed it could be, and release it out into the world. For someone who was so sick and tired of open world games, Elden Ring is a complete breath of fresh air. Every inch of the world feels hand-crafted, but that inch doesn’t need some collectible hidden in it. It rewards exploration, challenges players, encourages creativity, and, best of all: instills curiosity. Every part of Elden Ring‘s world feels like it has a reason to exist, and each step within brought me closer to my goal while simultaneously giving me ten new ones.
The game is truly something special if it was able to break my jaded outlook on anything open world. I can only hope the industry takes note.
Time Vampire of the Year: Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak
Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak fixes nearly every problem I had with Monster Hunter Rise, so it’s no surprise that I spent the vast majority of my time hanging out in Elgado, slaying monsters with Fiorayne, and sleep-bombing Rathalos with friends. Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak is such a fantastic expansion that it managed to sap another 200 hours out of me since release. While the original release was a fun ride, it started to wear itself thin thanks to the lack of challenge. Sunbreak, on the other hand, has kept me coming back for every title update. It’s refreshing to look forward to a new monster, knowing full well it’s going to put up a hell of a fight.
Wow, Cool Robot of the Year: Relayer
When Relayer was first revealed, I was initially drawn in by the flashy mechs flying all over the battlefield. Every combat animation felt like it was straight out of an anime that blew its entire budget on the fight scenes. Yet, when I dug into the game and got to know the characters, I was entranced with the tale it was telling. The cast — albeit not without their tropes — is strong and endearing. Every character’s personality stretches far beyond their archetypes, their personal growth is heartfelt, and their ambitions are immediately intriguing. The way they operate in the grand plot of mercenaries, corporations, and governments kept me on the edge of my seat as I tried to pinpoint allegiances while cheering for every little emotional victory the cast received.
Isekai of the Year: Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream
The Atelier series is my favorite game series overall, and Atelier Sophie is one of my favorite entries. It’s creative, full of heart, and, most of all, fun. Atelier Lulua proved Gust was willing to revisit older series, and Atelier Ryza 2 showed they would make direct sequels; Atelier Sophie 2 is the perfect culmination of those ideas. It serves as a heartwarming expansion of Sophie’s character and a wonderful look at her most cherished people. By entering a dream world that can unite people across time and space, Sophie and her deceased grandmother travel across a gorgeous world designed to bring happiness to all who enter. With a younger version of her best friend and companion, Plachta, at her side, the stage is set for a charming and exciting journey full of growth and precious memories.
Everything about Atelier Sophie 2 is a step up from its predecessors. The large-scaled maps are expertly designed and stunning to traverse, the smaller-than-usual cast has plenty of room for well-paced character growth, and the combat system is the best turn-based Atelier system ever created. Unit design is top-notch, with unique and intriguing abilities, stats, and roles in battle, and the combat itself is kinetic and highly strategic. Atelier Sophie 2 is easily a top 5 Atelier game, and I encourage anyone to give it a look. Now, since we’re on the subject of sequels, Gust, I could use another entry in the Dusk series. Just sayin’.
Innit of the Year: Xenoblade Chronicles 3
I only like about half of the first Xenoblade Chronicles game. There are bits and pieces I enjoy, but the overall package doesn’t do much for me.I could say the same about Xenoblade Chronicles 2: I like about half of it, but I couldn’t make clean cuts on what I like and don’t. Unfortunately, I’ve played maybe an hour of Xenoblade Chronicles X due to it being trapped on Wii U, but that’s another story. Thus, with my middling impressions of the prior games, my expectations for Xenoblade Chronicles 3 were astronomically high, while my pre-release hype was subterranean.
I’m happy to say that Xenoblade Chronicles 3 feels like a game made in response to my picky, whiny complaints about the previous games. Any issues I had with the combat? Fixed. Didn’t like the extended cast of XC1 or 2? Fixed. Hated practically anything to do with sidequests? Fixed. Character growth? Fixed. I could go on for paragraphs about everything I disliked in XC1 and XC2 and end each with a simple “Fixed.” Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a triumph in every way. I love the cast, the music, the combat, the world, the progression, the story, everything. It is, without a doubt, the best of the trilogy, and I dare say it rivals the Xenosaga series as a whole.
Now I need to find something to complain about so MonolithSoft can fix it in the next game, or perhaps the DLC. Where to start…?
Oh, well, it sure would be nice if Nopon were playable again.
Let’s see if that works.
Villain of the Year: Corpse Factory
Noriko Kurosawa is a deranged psychopath and an outright horrible person. So, why is she one of my favorite characters of 2022? Honestly, it’s all because of the journey she takes through her descent into madness. It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion, but the train is loaded with high volatile explosives. The crash itself might be fascinating, but one can’t help but wonder when — not if — those explosives will ignite. The way River Crow Studio walks the reader through the ins and outs of Noriko’s broken psyche is masterful, and I applaud their ability to sink their chains into my heart and make me cheer for the vilest of protagonists. Yet it’s not just Noriko; it’s the entire cast. There were characters I completely hated one moment, then loved once I was able to peek inside their head.
Corpse Factory is an incredibly dark, gruesome, and wonderfully macabre story that tells the tale of a young woman who wants nothing more than to see people dead. The art is gorgeous, the music is chilling, and the writing is absolutely stellar. It’s a fantastic ride, and I can’t praise it enough. For fans of horror and thriller stories in general, I’d highly recommend giving Corpse Factory a look. Maybe you, too, will find yourself cheering for a horrible group of misfits.