2022 has been a time of considerable strife and personal upheaval for many, myself included. Though, I doubt any could reasonably argue that it was a poor year for video game releases. So many critically acclaimed and fan-beloved entries were launched, bolstering an industry growing astronomically larger by the second.
And 2023 is already looking to be quite a favorable time as well. But before we waltz into another cycle, I’ve compiled the five new games I’ve enjoyed the most this past year. In all honesty, there are countless titles I was close to including here since there was a genuinely intimidating assortment of terrific releases. Still, I’m fairly confident in what I’ve picked being my defining games this time around.
I suppose I should also note, to mitigate any potential confusion, why this article’s title has the name “Bailey” instead of Orpheus or Joshua. As stated on Noisy Pixel’s “About Us” page, Bailey is my real name, but Orpheus Joshua is the pen name I’ve used ever since I began to write for the Kingdom Hearts fansite, KH13. Then, when I applied to Noisy Pixel and became a staff writer here, I chose to stick with the same pen name for consistency.
Lite lore aside, let’s actually dive into my top five games for 2022.
5. Soul Hackers 2
Megami Tensei has always been a rather contentious franchise for me. The inherent appeal of the non-Persona titles jarringly differs to almost humorously unbelievable extents. Their gameplay designs, settings, storytelling structures, and music are all significantly different from Persona, and their directions are why I’ve never found much enjoyment with them. Thin skin with online communities never helped matters, either. Admittedly, the general premises and tones of games like Digital Devil Saga have always engaged me, yet several elements usually turn me off.
For a most prominent example, I’ve previously discussed how the demon negotiation in mainline SMT was the primary reason I could never get into them due to the lack of meaningful dialogue choices and other such factors. Simply put, I never felt an ounce of achievement or satisfaction when succeeding in demon negotiations, so it ruined my experiences with the games as a whole. Granted, other titles utilized demon acquisition in disparate ways, but the way Soul Hackers 2 handled it was an undeniable relief. The design decision alone nets it a top-five spot for me. It has entirely shifted my perspective on a game I thought would simply be like its predecessors. I loved negotiation in Persona 2 and Persona 5, but I don’t ever see the former’s take on it ever returning.
Although aside from that, I found the cast excellently written, resulting in endearing dynamics and memorable scenes. The gameplay loop was solid, the English voice work was stellar, and the narrative was immensely compelling. Ringo not being a silent protagonist was a stellar design choice as well, and I’m hoping future Atlus games adopt this decision. I’m aware this game’s reception has been quite poor, so I’m undoubtedly an aberration here. I just can’t lie to myself to agree with what has been deemed correct.
4. Chained Echoes
Chained Echoes is a turn-based RPG I was unaware of before receiving a review code. As a result, it completely slipped past my radar, and I’m upset it did because this is easily one of the best outings from the genre in years. As vague as this may sound, almost everything about this title is masterclass. The worldbuilding, character relationships, writing, soundtrack, combat mechanics, and difficulty balancing are so intricately and perfectly crafted to points you rarely see nowadays.
More specifically, in hindsight, the difficulty balancing amazed me the most. Every battle requires active thought, yet they’re never overbearing or frustratingly demanding. Such an indescribable degree of care was poured into making progression cathartic, and it’s all pulled off with flying colors. Other than the minor faults I addressed in my review, I really have nothing ill to say about Chained Echoes. It’s a new modern classic.
3. The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story
Chances are that most, if not every, individual reading this title has no idea what it is, and that’s because, despite being a Square Enix-published game, its genre, presentation, and lack of effective marketing made it incredibly obscure. Nevertheless, this visual novel mystery adventure utilizing real-life actors was unexpectedly superb. While its gameplay processes of merging mental strings were a tad too time-consuming, the core narrative here more than made up for it. The outstanding soundtrack and voice work helped push the quality further, too.
And on a personal note, I had this lasting, distinct and familiar notion that I have not felt in roughly seven to eight years. Due to various avenues of trauma, it has become arduous for me to consume any shows, movies, and manga/comics. In fact, I have not done so in close to a decade which is kind of wild to think about. Even though the medium here is entirely different, the way The Centennial Case presents itself is often like a serialized drama akin to a television show. So, the experience instilled a state of media-induced serenity that I firmly believed was negated by my demolished internalizations from long ago.
2. Star Ocean The Divine Force
Games crafted by tri-Ace feel like they existed a lifetime ago. Unfortunately, their presence is nowhere near what it once was, and it has been pretty saddening. So, when Star Ocean The Divine Force was announced, I lost my goddamn mind. It’s pretty crazy in retrospect, actually. My reaction to this title’s announcement eclipsed even the likes of Kingdom Hearts III and Kingdom Hearts IV because while Kingdom Hearts is my favorite franchise, it getting new games has never been an uncertainty.
Star Ocean, on the other hand, I thought was completely dead after the flop that was Integrity and Faithlessness and the gacha game’s shutdown. And I’m thrilled that The Divine Force turned out well. Aside from technical hiccups and some pacing issues, this was a fantastic action JRPG through and through that brought the series back to form. Most of all, I fell in love with the cast, with every party member feeling integral to each other’s dynamics while being entertaining to witness converse and bond.
Now, if only Star Ocean: Second Evolution would greet Western shores on modern platforms…
1. Cuphead The Delicious Last Course
Aside from fulfilling exploration, one of my greatest sources of enjoyment in video games is derived from learning and understanding stellarly designed boss battles. Kingdom Hearts III Re Mind, Ys Origin, and Furi are prime examples of what has granted me that euphoria, and this year, another new game has joined that list, Cuphead The Delicious Last Course. While DLC, this experience felt so distinct from the original that I had to include it.
I already discussed The Last Course’s strengths in my review, but simply put, it truly exemplifies why I love playing video games. Fantastic boss telegraphs, patterns, animations, and hype-inducing music acting as motivation make me fall in love with any game; The Delicious Last Course prevailed on all fronts, surpassing the base game in every way imaginable. Truthfully, Kingdom Hearts III Re Mind and Ys Origin remain a few notches above. Still, this DLC is not too distant from their levels of mastery. Perfecting each of these boss fights in Expert mode was sublime.
I sincerely wish more games’ boss battles were close to the levels of what Cuphead, Kingdom Hearts III Re Mind, and Ys Origin comprise because they provide profound individualized catharses that nothing else in the medium has come close to reaching.
Special Mention — Chaos;Head Noah
Chaos;Head Noah not being on my actual list is kind of bizarre, to be honest. I’ve endlessly discussed why I love this debut to the Science Adventure franchise and how much it has impacted my core self, and none of that has waned. It’s just that because I experienced fan-led translations of Chaos;Head in the past and had such a familiarity with the title prior to its official localization, I didn’t feel right making it an actual placement.
Regardless, as for Chaos;Head Noah itself, my love for it primarily stems from the protagonist, Takumi Nishijou. I’ve written a whole article about this character already. Still, to summate it, his perceptions of the world, his tone, his surrounding vicinity, and his speech impediment make him a protagonist I have not seen in any other media. The lattermost factor is especially notable for me since stuttering is usually treated with mockery in media, embodied by those who are either incompetent villains or outcasts whose misfortune is meant to be perceived as humorous.
As a stutterer myself, seeing that vocal hindrance constantly hand-waved in demeaning manners is common yet never easy to witness. However, in the case of Chaos;Head Noah, Takumi’s stutter is not a defining trait used to belittle his validated core of existence needlessly. I can loosely relate to his perceptions, as well. For instance, his challenges with social interactions, and girls, in particular, have been a constant collective issue I’ve also faced throughout my life. In hindsight, he’s one of the few characters in media I can definitively say I see myself as.
Of course, I do love the heroine routes, core plot, soundtrack, and other parts of the experience, too. But Takumi is who ties everything together. He’s who makes Chaos;Head what it is.
2022 was a standout year, so here’s hoping that 2023 delivers similar levels of quality. I’m pretty sure I’ll just be hoping for Kingdom Hearts IV news throughout the year, though.
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