Video games certainly kept us busy in 2020. Here, we give you 10 releases from last year that might have slipped under the radar for even the most serious of video games geeks.
13 SENTINELS: AEGIS RIM
This game came out of left field for me. I hadn’t heard of anything about it coming out nor what it was about. All I knew from the trailer was that Atlus was involved and that it had gorgeous anime art style, teenagers, and mechas.
Thinking about it now, I should have guessed this was a Vanillaware game (Dragon’s Crown, Odlin’s Sphere, and more) just by the art. But this was a departure from their more fantasy-inspired settings and plots. This is a great mystery sci-fi that I wouldn’t mind seeing as mini series of television. Not for nothing, this game’s story was nominated for Best Narrative at the Game Awards 2020.
13 Sentinels mostly delivers this narrative through 2 different modes. The main part of the game is a visual novel of sorts, with some branching paths that can only be unlocked by playing through the 13 different character stories. Once you obtain certain information or keywords from one branch, you can go back and try different things.
This isn’t one of those games with a multitude of possible endings. There is a clear and concise story delivered, and these branching paths can be seen as simply different scenes in different days in the lives of the 13 characters.
The plot subverts many expectations and surprises with how congruent it comes together at the end, despite the myriad of possible pitfalls a story like this could present. By the end, you truly care for most, if not all, of the main characters. This is also helped by a very useful archive with a flowchart of the events and an encyclopedia of all important events and contents.
The second part of the game is somewhat of a tower defense minigame where you get to control the titular Sentinels. These are giant robots defending an area from a veritable swarm of smaller and way larger robotical enemies. Think: the defense of Zion in the Matrix. Except the visuals are somewhat nonexistent.
However, the minigame can be somewhat challenging if one doesn’t delve into the upgrades available for our big ass mechs. Once you do though, it can be fun to see how quickly you wipe out hordes of enemies.
There is something to be said for the balance of difficulty and progression that despite the potential to make your Sentinels overpowered, the tower defense game kept me engaged and wanting to complete all levels allowed by the visual novel side of the story at that time.
Definitely a game you must play if any of this sounds appealing to you.
YAKUZA: LIKE A DRAGON
The Yakuza franchise has always been somewhat of an oddball series of games. While a beat’em up at its core, the appeal of it has always come from its intricate and sometimes overly dramatic stories revolving around the Japanese Yakuza gangs, and the more fun minigames and side quests. From managing a hostess club, to playing with remote controlled cars, by way of karaoke rhythm minigames and playing darts—the fun was bountiful.
In the latter part, Like A Dragon is no different. However, gone is the beat’em up aspect of it, now replaced with a Persona-inspired RPG turn based battle system. And honestly, it’s one of the most fun experiences in this style I’ve had in years.
Following the story of Ichiban, a low rank Yakuza who took the fall for one of his leaders and spent years in jail, only to come out and realize everyone moved on, and no one cares for him or his return. The “political” structure of the Yakuza gangs he remembered is now as unrecognizable to him as smartphones and modern technology.
Along the way he is joined by different party members that each fulfill some sort of archetypal role from RPG games, but in the most hilarious ways. Look no further than the wizard being a homeless man who can summon pigeons to attack and beg for money to distract or enrage the enemy.
The world is vibrant, as all Yakuza games have always been, and the minigames aren’t any fewer than in past entrances in the franchise. As usual, the story is great, and this time around it goes even harder on the comedy (which admittedly, can be a bit odd at times seeing as it’s a very distinctly Japanese sense of humor; but easy enough to get used to).
If you were saddened by Final Fantasy VII Remake’s jump to real time combat and didn’t pick up Persona 5 Royal for the tacked-on two new characters, this could scratch that turn-based RPG itch.
FINAL FANTASY CRYSTAL CHRONICLES REMASTERED EDITION
Let’s be honest, this game was already a game many forgot existed from the GameCube era. And the subsequent releases in this series on other Nintendo consoles weren’t really best sellers either. However, that is not to say this game was bad. In fact, it finally got a great remaster (seems Square Enix was into the idea this year).
Now we finally get to play this really pretty and entertaining game on basically all platforms and with crossplay for multiplayer. This way you can play it on your Playstation 4 while your friends are on Switch or even iOS or Android devices.
But what of the game itself? Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles is an action role-playing game where you take control of a group of adventurers scouring the world in search of a rare resource called “myrrh”, used to fuel crystals protecting the world’s settlements from the poisonous Miasma.
Guided through a series of repeating events which dictate your progress through the story, your adventurers set out from the stereotypical podunk village, looking for the myrrh and guarding the vessels which gather it. You explore dungeons in which the resource is found, and then return home to renew the village’s protective crystal. You get to customize your villager to hero avatar by choosing from some preset bodies for either a male or female of one of the four races in the game.
The plot is much simpler than most Square Enix games and in the Final Fantasy series, and to be honest, sometimes that’s for the best. Though perhaps not as engaging to some, the laid back and simple approach to this action RPG is just what the doctor ordered during this quarantine year. Just ask Animal Crossing.
ONE PUNCH MAN: A HERO NOBODY KNOWS
In the past we have been submerged by sub-par arena fighter games. And some might have looked at A Hero Nobody Knows and assumed the same of it. And those folks would be only partially wrong.
There is never a great arena fighter where the combat isn’t somewhat clunky and woefully non competitive-friendly, and A Hero Nobody Knows is no exception. But for what it lacks, it more than makes up for in customization. You create your low class Hero and fight in multiple quests and side quests, going through the story of One Punch Man as you slowly but surely rise in the Hero classes and learn new techniques from popular characters in the series. Some of the techniques require you to equip certain specific styles ranging from the classic brawler to the swordsman or the more wild and alien monster.
The story has a nice pace and the combat, though repetitive, is challenging and fun. You can fight in multiplayer battles and the results are as hilarious as they are outlandish. Sure, your connection will have a lot to say about how much you get to enjoy these, but seeing the weird characters other users create is half the reward.
If you want an arena fighter that isn’t the umpteenth rehashing of a Naruto or the very lackluster one based on the My Hero Academia manga anime, this could be your pick.
TOKYO MIRAGE SESSIONS #FE ENCORE
With Persona 5 Royal coming out a mere two months after Tokyo Mirage Sessions, it is understandable that this got overlooked. While Nintendo Switch users wait for the new Persona title, Tokyo Mirage Sessions is the perfect replacement.
The game focuses on a group of youths trying to protect the world against “Mirages”, otherworldly beings who feed off of humans’ Performa energy. The main characters can each summon their own Mirage. Mirages function almost exactly like Personas—Personae?— giving characters special abilities.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions doesn’t quite go as dark and dreary in parts as Persona 5. The overall tone is much more light-hearted and fun. Its story explores the entertainment and idol industries that are so prevalent in Japan. The combat feels like a marriage made in heaven between Fire Emblem and Persona. The aesthetics tend towards bright and flashy pastels without being tacky. The character designs are simple but great, and voice acting is what it needs to be.
For Persona fans and jRPG fans in general, Tokyo Mirage Sessions is a Switch Game that can’t be missed.
CRUSADER KINGS III
Strategy games are aplenty nowadays, but none seem as polished as Crusader Kings 3. The attention to detail and the depth of many of its features makes it the best historical strategy game since, well, it’s predecessor.
Of course, when compared to Crusader Kings II it may seem to have fewer content, but let’s not forget that 2 has been out for some seven years and has received plenty of DLC content and expansions. Paradox will support this new release for years to come and it will be even better than its predecessor.
With new mechanics such as Stress allowing to better role play your current character—developing coping mechanisms that may lead to new alliances and a variety of potential conflicts, Crusader Kings makes your story all the more intimate and epic.
Will you be the ruler that will reform the religions of old? Or perhaps make cannibalism acceptable within your brand of Christianity? Maybe you’ll create a whole new one that believes in reincarnation with a church consisting of only women dabbling in witchcraft. All of this and more just adds more juice to your story and to the possible wars that will arise from clashing beliefs.
New Hooks and Secrets allow you gain power through blackmail, subterfuge, and interesting political maneuvering. Marry off that rebellious child of yours to forge an alliance, only to then have him assassinated if you feel he was a liability. Then keep the baby as the new heir and use him as your tool for expansion. All is valid in the game of kings.
Warring and managing your armies is still somewhat of a chore when the game unevenly spreads your armies, forcing you to micromanage a lot of it. But new features make it easier to understand the power balance and what the outcome of the battle will be. With knights now being named characters, new stories may arise from their heroic deeds, betrayals, or deaths.
With perfect music, graphics, and UI—at the end of the kingly day, this is THE strategy games for years to come.
CRASH BANDICOOT 4: IT’S ABOUT TIME
Almost no one seemed to be talking about the return of consoles’ favorite Bandicoot. In 2019 we had the beautiful remaster of the first 3 games for the current gen consoles and it showed everyone why old platforming games were so good. Then out of the blue, developer Toys For Bob dropped a reboot-sequel to the original trilogy. At first some were skeptical about the quality of this title, but having played through it: they definitely pulled it off.
With beautiful environments full of quirky enemies and a Crash and Coco looking wonderful and ready for action, this was a pleasure to play and replay. Searching for those hidden boxes, trying to beat your own time and records of boxes and apples (I know they’re not apples, don’t @ me) is a fun challenge. By completing everything, you get the elusive diamonds to unlock new costumes that vary from cowboy to superhero, cyborg, punk, and sci-fi.
New mechanics and masks help alleviate some of the sense of déjà-vu, and makes for some puzzles, which, though never really complicated, will test the skill of the more inexperienced player. For too long, have games held your hand and been forgiving of errors. Not here. You will fall to your death more than you can count if you mistime that jump, or if you make a wrong spin during a chase level.
This was a fun throwback to classic Bandicoot-related shenanigans. Perfect for nostalgic players or for kids delving into video games like we did years ago.
At its core Cloudpunk is one thing: and exploration of the gorgeous cyberpunk city of Nivalus.
You play as Rania, a new denizen to the city with its many flying cars criss-crossing the dark and rainy skies of Nivalus. And you’ll not be long for the skies yourself as you join a shady pick-up and delivery company called Cloudpunk. Your boss tells you no driver makes it past the first night on the job.
From there, you dart around in your flying car, taking care to fill the tank up and repair it after you inevitably scratch it against one of those flying buses. Along every pick-up and delivery you will discover a vast and interesting cast of characters: from hady nightclub owners, hackers, hover car racers, CEOs, cops, and self-aware androids.
The city is filled with stories, and although the quality of the writing and voice-acting is pretty uneven, it still makes for an enjoyable experience of discovery.
You can customize your ride for satisfying boosts in speed and maneuverability, as well as your apartment. Neat navigational puzzles keep the deliveries interesting over the course of the entire story and NPCs are always there to lighten up the otherwise somber existence in Nivalus.
Recommended for fans of movies like Blade Runner, The Fifth Element and even Star Wars.
SAKUNA OF RICE AND RUIN
There is no game out there, that I know of, that does what this little marvel does.
You play as Sakuna, the daughter of the God of War and the Goddess of the Harvest. Punished and banished to the moral realm, you will be tasked with battling enemies and growing a harvest of rice. That’s right, there is no real leveling system here. Sakuna only grows stronger by growing more rice and getting better harvests. So battling and exploring the island in a beautiful bit of 2D platforming will net you better tools and skills and villagers, to help you better your planting, irrigation, and harvesting.
While slow-paced, the ambience and concept for this game is so stupidly charming that you’ll spend all of the hours growing your crops to strengthen Sukuna for her battles as the story unfolds.
Allow me to repeat myself: there is no game out there, that I know of, that does what this little marvel does.For that alone you ought to give it a go.
This gorgeous game is more of a reflection on the meaning of loss and death.
In Spiritfarer, you play as a boy ferrying spirits across the river to the other world. This is a management sim type of game. However there is no focus on maximising profits, or speed, or efficiency. You don’t set out to build an empire in the Charonian business or compete with other spirit farers. The main focus here is to make the ship ride as comfortably and peacefully for its passengers as possible. You need to console and ease the spirits on their final voyage, and it makes for a very peaceful yet emotional bit of gameplay.
Absolutely recommend this one to anyone who might need some help in dealing with the pain of loss.