It’s New Year’s Eve! In fact, as I type this, it’s New Year’s Day in some places around the world, so if that’s the case, uh, happy new year, and I hope 2021 looks better than the rancid 12 months we’ve all just endured.
As is tradition for video gaming-related websites, it is obligatory for me to declare some sort of “game of the year” before 2020 ends, and as I’m someone who likes to be awkward and do things differently, I am counting “games of 2020” as “games I played and/or covered on MoeGamer in 2020” rather than necessarily “games that released in 2020”. My site, my rules — but hopefully you’ll find some fun things to check out along the way!
Hit the jump and let’s get started then — and note that these are (probably) in no particular order; I’m just noting them down as they come to mind!
Dead or School
This game was a real pleasure to discover. I’d picked up an Early Access copy on Steam a long time ago but had never gotten around to trying it; it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to review the full version for Nintendo Life that I actually sat down and played it a bunch.
And whoo, I was glad I did. This game features some absolutely smashing 2D platforming action combined with loot-whoring equipment collection and upgrading. There’s some astonishingly good level design with really clever environmental puzzles along the way, and a well-implemented encounter-based structure means that you’re either engaging in furious combat or indulging in precise platforming — never both at the same time.
The story is fascinating — even more so when you bear in mind it’s the author’s passion project as a follow-up to a little-known manga he made several years ago — and the whole thing is a genuine pleasure to play. And I bet like five people played it this year. Make sure you join that happy elite at some point in the near future — you won’t regret it!
You’d be forgiven for assuming this was a VA-11 HALL-A ripoff at first glance — particularly given that it’s a game about serving drinks and listening to people talk, presented in a distinctly retro pixel-art style. In fact, the developers Toge Productions happily admit that they were inspired by the modern cyberpunk classic — so much so that they even had the opportunity to chat with the developers at Sukeban Games.
But Coffee Talk successfully distinguishes itself in a number of ways. For starters, the setting is very different; rather than a cyberpunk dystopia, Coffee Talk unfolds in modern-day Seattle with a twist: in this version of the Emerald City, fantasy creatures such as elves, succubi, orcs and merfolk walk the streets alongside humans — and in a pleasing development, most of them seem to get along just fine with one another.
As you chat with your intriguing and diverse clientele, you gradually get to the bottom of a wide variety of separate but intertwining storylines, ultimately giving you a fascinating insight into a very specific moment in time for these people, and for the city in which they live.
Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate
I started this late in the year, but it hasn’t taken long for this game to quickly define itself as probably my favourite Warriors title. Featuring a gigantic cast of 145 playable characters, a huge variety of game modes to play, a sprawling story mode and a character development and customisation system that rivals your average dungeon crawler in depth, this is quite possibly the ultimate hack-and-slash action RPG.
The time-travelling narrative allows the game to explore hypothetical scenarios even more than its two predecessors, and the addition of characters from other Koei Tecmo properties such as Bladestorm, Atelier, Dead or Alive, Ninja Gaiden and Trinity: Souls of Zill O’ll (bonus points if you’ve even heard of that one) allows the series to spread its wings even further beyond the Three Kingdoms and Sengoku-era casts from Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors.
This is a game that could potentially last you forever — and, pleasingly, its gameplay is relatively friendly to short-form play sessions, too, making it a great game to play “on the side” while you’re focusing on other things. This will be bubbling away in the background for me for quite some time, I feel!
This is one of the most beautiful, emotionally engaging visual novels I have ever had the pleasure of reading; I adored it so much that I’ll even forgive them for using the same royalty-free music I do on my YouTube videos. Imagine my surprise when I was enjoying a scene and what I’ve come to think of as the “Atari A to Z theme” suddenly started playing in the background!
Anyway, SeaBed is an absolute work of art, providing interesting reflections on life, love, loss and grief. It’s by no means a relentlessly bleak game, despite that subject matter; in fact, for a lot of the time it’s colourful, vibrant and very positive in outlook. It keeps a lot of its deeper meaning hidden a fair way below the surface — hence the name — and the core mystery at the heart of it all will keep you wondering and guessing until the very end… and perhaps beyond.
This is a long and sometimes challenging read — but it’s well worth the time you’ll spend on it. I cannot say enough good things about this beautiful visual novel; please support quality work like this. (And Play-Asia, hurry up with that limited edition, I wants it on my shelfses!)
Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories
Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories is a game that you have to make a real effort to love, as it’s an absolute trainwreck from a technical perspective — particularly in its Switch incarnation. But if you’re not someone who is so shallow as to dismiss a game purely based on its framerate, there’s an amazing experience to be had here: one that causes you to question yourself as much as it invites you to engage with a compelling and often uncompromising narrative.
I’ve not seen many games that invite you to “role-play” your character to such a strong degree as this one — and the choices you make throughout provide a really interesting sense of context and meaning to everything that unfolds, as well as leading the story in some peculiar and unexpected directions on occasion.
This is a game that all too many will dismiss due to its shonky performance, and that’s a real shame; it’s not an action game by any stretch of the imagination, so give it a chance, and you’ll find yourself enjoying one of the most memorable narrative-centric games in recent memory.
A Hat in Time
If you’re yet to play this loving homage to N64-era platformers, you should rectify this as soon as possible, because A Hat in Time is undoubtedly one of my favourite games I played this year. Packed with personality, filled with superb level design and a wonderful sense of humour, this is a game I’m going to remember for a very long time to come.
Okay, the Switch version is a bit janky — but I don’t particularly care, since aside from some blurry interstitial screens and long load times it plays just fine, plus you can buy it on a cartridge. This is one of those games where you can just feel that the developers had a wonderful time making it: of realising their dreams, and of doing things their own distinct way rather than just slavishly trying to recreate games from years gone by.
Also it has one of the most frustratingly catchy pieces of music in any game ever, and given how strongly I tend to respond to musical stimuli, that would probably be enough to get me to recommend this. But, thankfully, it’s a superb game on top of that, and one that I urge anyone who feels in need of some joy in their lives to seek out and play as soon as possible.
This is one of those original PlayStation games that very few people have heard of — and which I suspect went somewhat underappreciated back in the day due to reviewers and public alike coming to it with the wrong expectations. This is not a narrative-centric space sim like your Wing Commanders and your Colony Warses; this is a game that blends elements of space sim and strategy RPG to produce something very distinctive.
Unfolding somewhere in the middle of the expansive Namco UGSF universe timeline, Star Ixiom tasks you with defending the galaxy from incursions by enemies from Bosconian, Galaga, Starblade and more. You do this by prioritising your targets, defending bases and planets from attack and trying not to let things crash into you.
With three distinct modes of play offering immediate action or a more long-term strategic affair, Star Ixiom is one of the best space games I’ve played for a long time, and a game that deserves far more recognition than it ever got in the past.
Final Fantasy VII Remake
This remake had some big boots to fill, and while not everyone enjoyed the “remake” aspect of it — which added some narrative components not present in the original, as well as suggesting that future installments might, in fact, branch off in a different direction — few can argue with any real authority that this isn’t a spectacular, supremely playable modern take on the cinematic RPG.
Featuring beautiful visuals, a well-cast lineup of voice actors, a solid combat system that ended up being a lot better than anyone expected and the ability to engage with a classic setting in more depth than ever before, Final Fantasy VII Remake is one of the best things Square Enix has put out in a very long time — aside from the ongoing marvel that is Final Fantasy XIV, of course — and makes me very intrigued to see what will happen next.
For those who just want to experience Final Fantasy VII’s story again, you can get it on pretty much any platform from the original PlayStation onwards these days; for those willing to go in with an open mind and enjoy a compelling re-interpretation of an all-time classic, this should be an essential part of your library.
I was mostly excited about the Evercade retro gaming platform when it was announced they would be resurrecting Atari Lynx games for the first time in… well, ever, really. But once I got my hands on one, I knew that it was something far more special than just a means of playing old Atari games that only I care about.
The Evercade is a beautifully designed but very affordable piece of kit that celebrates not only the all-time classics of retro gaming that we’ve all seen hundreds of rereleases of, but also stuff that never saw overseas releases outside of Japan back in the day, or which came from lesser-known or underappreciated systems. This is a system that allows anyone to easily play Star Ixiom’s wonderful predecessor Star Luster for Famicom; where you can play Ninja Golf for Atari 7800 at a moment’s notice; and where you can enjoy the Chinese bootleg Mega Drive RPG scene to your heart’s content.
With a substantial library of games spread across 14 cartridges at the time of writing, with more to come in the new year, the Evercade deserves to be in every retro enthusiast’s collection. It’s a platform that pays respect to the classics of yore like no other — and by far my favourite console that launched in 2020!
Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy
The Atelier MegaFeature that I kicked off this year is already one of the things that I’m most proud of — and it’s still not quite finished as I type this! Working my way chronologically through such a huge series has given me an amazing appreciation of what Gust has done over the years — iterating in some cases, innovating in others, but always creating absolutely wonderful, memorable experiences that will stay with me for a very long time, even after I’ve finally penned my last word about Atelier Ryza 2… or whatever we’re up to by the time I get to the end of all this!
It was tough to pick a specific highlight from all of the wonderful games in the series that I’ve enjoyed this year, but if I had to pick a single one, I think it has to be Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy. This is a game that kept me absolutely enraptured for its complete duration thanks to its amazing cast of characters, its two separate but interconnected narrative paths, and its spectacularly face-melting soundtrack.
It’s absolutely criminal that this never got a European release back in the day — and, as a very late PS2 release that came out a full two years after the Xbox 360 hit the market, I doubt many Americans played it either — so if you have the opportunity to try this for yourself sometimes, please make the time to do so. It’s taken its place as one of my all-time favourite RPGs, and a perfect example of Gust absolutely on top of its game. And with that in mind, I have absolutely no qualms in declaring it my personal game of the year, 2020.
So those are my picks for 2020! What have been your highlights of the year — regardless of whether or not they were actually released this year?
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