2020 has certainly been a year, huh. I’m sure everybody doing any kind of retrospective on this past year will be talking about “these unprecedented times”, so I certainly shan’t dwell on it too much here. However, despite that, this past year has been a pretty fantastic year for gaming, and that’s without even considering the launch of a new console generation. These are my Top 10 Games That Were You Know Actually Pretty Decent.

Final Fantasy VII Remake

Most important change: Jessie now horny af

I’m not sure what’s more astonishing: that Square actually remade Final Fantasy VII, or that fact that it’s fucking incredible. Seriously. As a massive FF7 fan, this game is so close to perfectly encapsulating what a remade FF7 would look like in my head. It hits so many of the right nostalgia notes, but never feels like it’s pandering purely to those nostalgic of the original, it’s an accomplishment in its own right. The gameplay is an iteration of FFXV’s, only this time it’s actually good and has enough mechanics to make it feel distinctly FF7, despite being a mostly real-time action affair. Visually, aside from a few dodgy textures here and there, it looks sublime. Characters move and emote in ways you could only dream of 20+ years ago. Midgar now feels like the actual sprawling metropolis that it’s supposed to be. The soundtrack is so good, I spent upwards of £100 importing a fancy limited edition physical boxset of it from Japan. The additions and changes they made to flesh out the story and characters are on the whole, fantastic.

There is that ending though. If you’ve played the game, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t played the game, you might still know what I’m talking about. I don’t like to really spoil things in these end of year roundups I do, so I’m not going to delve into details. I will say though, that my feelings on what Square Enix did with the ending of this game will ultimately depend on what they do going forward. There is the potential for them to completely change everything from here on out, or, not at all. The stopping point of the story in Remake is fundamentally not any different from what it was in the original game, but SE have given themselves an out if they want to go batshit insane in the next parts, and whether they do (and how they do, if so) will be what shapes my view of this game looking back.

A Short Hike

They’re a big deal.

This short and sweet little indie game is something I picked up on Switch after seeing some buzz about it in a few of those “hidden gem” threads you see on Reddit and the like. It turns out, I already had it on PC: it was free on the Epic Store at some point, but I certainly don’t begrudge the few quid I paid for it on Switch.

You play as Claire, an anthropomorphic bird, and your ultimate goal is to get to the top of a mountain that forms part of a national park that you’ve visited with your aunt. It’s essentially a small open-world exploration game with some really simple but satisfying movement mechanics. Being a bird, you can glide as well as earn golden feathers which give you additional jumps. The endgame is to climb the mountain, but you’ll be spending plenty of time finding those feather upgrades, as well as doing minor puzzles, finding chests, or just exploring and talking to the other animals that are going about their various activities in the park. Said characters and the writing is all very charming and funny, and the whole thing has a low-res 3D aesthetic that I was really into.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2

This is definitely how this game originally looked, right?

THPS 1 and 2 weren’t my favourite games in the series. Honestly, I preferred 3, 4, and THUG. But that’s not to say I didn’t like 1 and 2, and certainly not that I don’t have nostalgia for them. In fact, one fond childhood memory I have is sitting down in the bedroom of a friend who I have long since lost touch with, handing the controller to each other as we take turns playing through the PS1 demo of the first THPS game (or, Tony Hawk’s Skateboarding, as it was called over here).

These games were a cultural phenomenon. Ask any kid who was a skater in the early 2000s why they got into skateboarding, and the vast majority of them would tell you it was because of THPS. That includes me, I was a skater kid in my early teens, as were a good deal of my friends and it was all thanks to these games. They were also a big influence on my early music taste. THPS3 in particular would release a few months after my 11th birthday when I received my first CD player. Tony Hawk’s games shaped a not-insignificant part of my identity as a tween.

And so, these remakes of the first two games together in one package is about as perfect as it could be. It controls just like it should. It looks great. The soundtrack is all there. Well, a few songs are apparently missing, but nothing stuck out to me. Superman is there. Police Truck is there. Jerry Was a Race Car Driver is there. I didn’t really need any more, to be honest. Honestly, my only real criticism is that… it’s a remake of 1 and 2 and not the later ones. 3 pretty much perfected the formula these games laid out, but in all honesty, I’m not a massive fan of the timed, score-attack nature of the first few entries. I generally preferred the more open, freeform nature of 4 and THUG. Here’s hoping for an eventual remake of these. Give me that motherfucker, Eric Sparrow, in HD, you cowards!

Granblue Fantasy Versus

Charlotta is basically E.Honda plus Akuma.

If you read last year’s entry, you’ll recall my gushing about Granblue Fantasy, a browser-based gacha JRPG which, at the time of writing, I have over 1500 hours of playtime in. I went on about much I’d fallen in love with its world and characters last year, and this year, to be able to see some of them be playable in 3D, and in one of my favourite genres, made by one of the best developers in that genre, is fantastic.

It’s a shame that covid really fucked this game over. Not being able to develop any kind of local tournament scene coupled with the pretty bad netcode means the game is pretty much only held up by the GBF whales (cough) buying it and the DLC for bonuses for the gacha game. Which is a shame because, as far as fighting games go, this is a really good one in my opinion. Arc System Works is known for making “anime fighters”: that is, fighters with much more crazy stuff like air-dashes, long juggle combos, crazy character-specific mechanics, and whatnot. Granblue Versus, however, is actually much more subdued. If Dragon Ball Fighterz was ArcSys’s take on the madness that is Marvel, then GBVS is their take on Street Fighter. And I really like Street Fighter.

I really hope that once the whole virus situation is behind us (if it ever will be…) that this game can still gain a solid footing as a competitive game in the FGC. It combines two of my big recent loves in gaming and I’d like nothing more than to see it successful.

Rune Factory 4 Special

This game gets me.

Okay. What if Stardew Valley… but hella anime?

That’s it. That’s this game. A fantasy Harvest Moon. That was literally the subtitle for the first couple of games’ English release.

This is an updated rerelease on the Switch for what was originally a 3DS game… and it shows. Not that graphics are everything, of course, otherwise, this game wouldn’t be on this list. I don’t really have any experience with the Harvest Moon series, which is why my initial comparison was Stardew. Like that game, there’s a lot more to do than just farming: there’s a plot, you can go fishing, there’s a fairly deep combat system, a fairly large world to explore, you can get married, etc, etc. If you’re into those kinds of games, this here is a good one of those.

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim

This game is hella pretty.

Okay. So. I don’t rank these lists, right? But this game is number one. This is my favourite game I played this year.

If Nier: Automata didn’t exist, this would probably be my favourite game of the entire generation.

13 Sentinels has one of the best stories in a video game. Period.

What if Vanillaware, a studio mostly known for side-scrolling action games like Muramasa and Odin Sphere, instead made a 30 hour, story-focused adventure game? And what if that story involved taking almost every conceivable sci-fi trope, cliché, and influence, threw them all into a blender, and then doled it out over a non-linear storyline comprising of thirteen different viewpoints and multiple time periods? And what if that somehow all came together perfectly, and not as an incomprehensible mess? Because that’s what they did. And it’s fucking amazing.

If you like story-focused games, and especially if you like sci-fi, 13 Sentinels is absolutely required viewing.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

I think my Switch may have died, so here’s a promo screenshot. :/

I’m sure just about everybody who’s talked about Animal Crossing this year has said something to the effect of how it came out at “the perfect time” and… they’re not wrong. As someone who’s day job is working in food retail, I was working right through the pandemic with only a few weeks of regular holiday time as time off. And as someone who is a diabetic (read: slightly higher risk of complications should I catch the ‘rona), the combination of those two facts made the time around this game’s release a very anxious one.

So it was nice to have this charming, super chill game where you ultimately do fuck all to just unwind a bit when I needed it. Something about the daily routine of just pottering about my island, hitting rocks to find money, shaking trees hoping a pinball table or something falls out, catching bugs to spook the local owl, or the myriad of other forms of simple busywork made for a nice, relaxing experience at a time where I, and many others, really needed one. I’ve long since moved on from the game, but I’ll look back on it fondly, and it’s certainly a large part of what I think of as “2020” in my head.

Demon’s Souls

Photo mode is a nightmare.

I’m going to be honest: of all the Souls games I’ve spent a decent amount of time with (which is most of them), I personally think Demon’s Souls is the weakest. That’s kind of to be expected, it was the first one, after all, they were still making the formula. However, this game’s biggest weakness in my opinion is its level design. I’m about to make a comment that I’m sure a lot of people will take umbrage with and tell me to “git gud”, but I hate the general lack of checkpointing and shortcuts in DeS compared to the later offerings. A general staple of Souls level-design is that you start at a checkpoint, you move and fight your way through an often labyrinthian area, only to eventually unlock a door or pull a lever or something that creates a quick shortcut back to the checkpoint you started at. There’s very little of that in this game. The only hard checkpoints are at the start of an area, and after beating a boss. It makes it so, after meticulously making my way through an area for 20 minutes only to then get killed, or make it to a boss only to then get killed, it feels very frustrating, and the inclination to just give up rather than try again is much higher than in the later games. In games like Dark Souls 3, Bloodborne, etc, the paths you had to take to get back to reattempt a boss or whatever felt much shorter. The combat itself was just as challenging, but they felt like they respected your time better through their level-design.

All that said, this is still a Souls game (originally) designed by FromSoftware, so even the worst of them is still very, very good. This remake of it is very, very good. It looks absolutely stunning, and the fact that it’s a graphical showpiece for the PlayStation 5 without making use of any ray-tracing speaks volumes to the quality of its artistry. I never played Bluepoint’s previous remake of Shadow of the Colossus, but this is certainly their best work yet, and I’m excited to see what they do next, whether it be another reimagining of a beloved game or something of their own.


You can pet the dog(s?).

Supergiant Games’ latest is one of the best rogue-likes on the market. Not only because the gameplay is superb, but because they’re pretty much the only studio that has managed the inclusion of a fleshed-out story into this genre and have it fit and make sense. And there’s so much story here! Every time you die and are returned to the hub at the beginning, you’re treated to a bunch of great dialogue from a bunch of great characters and, in the roughly 30 hours or so of playtime I have, have not once heard any repeated lines.

The rogue-like gameplay itself is also super satisfying, the studio’s penchant for great-feeling combat is still there, and the best it’s ever been. The healthy selection of weapons you can pick to make a run with, coupled with the plethora of boons (upgrades, effects, modifiers, and the like) you pick up along the way can make for a staggering variety of possible builds. One of my favourite runs had me getting upgrades that gave me more dashes, and those dashes would also damage enemies and knock them back, and enemies being knocked back would also take damage, and well as getting hit by a status effect, and a few other effects. The end result being that I could just enter a chamber and mash X to dash around like a madman, never even swinging whatever weapon I had, and everything would die. You can stumble into some really cool builds.

I haven’t played as much as I would’ve liked of Hades after it released as 1.0 this year, so I hope to get back to it at some point and see what they’ve added. Probably even more dialogue!

Genshin Impact

I wish I had Qiqi so I could take dumb photos like this.

Genshin is… a weird one to put on a best-of list. It’s definitely a good game, but it’s also a gacha game, and gacha games are inherently predatory, even the good ones. I say this as someone deep into a gacha game, one that I’ve spent money on. Even if a gacha doesn’t really try to monopolise your wallet, it may very well try to monopolise your time, though granted, if you’ve played any MMO, or live-service game from the last half-decade or so, you’ll be familiar with that. Genshin Impact’s gacha is bad. Like, among the worst in the industry bad. Like, 0.6% chance of getting a 5-star character, of which you need multiple dupes to fully upgrade bad. (For reference, the draw-rate for SSRs, the equivalent in Granblue Fantasy is 3%, or 6% on bimonthly gala banners, which are the only ones you’d realistically ever pull on, and the game doesn’t have a mechanic for dupe characters: once you get a character, you’re done.)

Thankfully, you can kind of ignore the gacha aspect of Genshin, and what you’re left with it a pretty polished and enjoyable open-world RPG that takes some superficial influence from Breath of the Wild, but is ultimately its own thing. The open-world here was enjoyable to me for largely the same reason that Zelda’s was, because I generally like exploring for the sake of exploring, and said exploration will almost always reward you with something, even if it’s small. The combat is not particularly deep, but enjoyable, focusing on quickly switching on the fly between a party of four characters, primarily to cast elementally-attuned abilities whenever they’re off cooldown in order to create elemental reactions that result in status effects and/or big damage.

It won’t be to everyone’s taste: it gets very grindy once you get into the endgame, and the insidious gacha aspects will always be there, waiting to snare someone without the impulse control to resist. But if you go in and treat it as a single-player open-world RPG, you can get a lot of polished hours of enjoyment out of Genshin, which for the entry price of free is remarkable.

And so there we have it for the hellyear that was 2020. Let’s see what the next year brings: hopefully some more meaty offerings in the next-gen exclusives department. Not that being able to play PS4 games at their absolute best on PS5 isn’t great, but I’d love for some more killers apps that aren’t just remakes of a game from two generations ago. Hopefully Nintendo will actually put some first-party games of note, and I would love at least of a glimpse of where the FF7 Remake is heading.