Best Games of 2022: Madison’s Top 5 Games of 2022

It’s been an incredible year for two of my favourite genres, JRPGs and Visual Novels. Live A Live and Digimon Survive, for very different reasons, have both been a long time coming. They’re not quite top 5 list material in my opinion, but they’re both pretty solid and they’re finally available. Furthermore, we’re in a bit of a renaissance era for the tactics genre of sorts, with Triangle Strategy and Tactics Ogre Reborn feeling much like Square Enix testing the waters for either a Final Fantasy Tactics port, or perhaps a full revival. I dearly hope the latter.

As for the world of visual novels (and their close cousin, adventure games), we’ve had not one, but two never-ever English releases actually come about! Chaos;Head NoAH and Witch on the Holy Night have both been about a decade in coming, and it feels simply miraculous to actually hold them in my hands. Strictly speaking, it should be Holy Night on this Top 5 list – the production values both on the original VN and its English translation are top notch – but personally I’m a selfish beast, and NoAH means so much to me.

My list here isn’t entirely those two genres, even if I consider them my favourites, so consider this introduction a sort of messy honorable mentions. With that said, here’s the actual top 5:

Splatoon 3

splatoon 3 store image2

It’s more Splatoon. A well balanced multiplayer shooter where starting gear like the Splattershot Jr. is just as likely to see high-level play as the late game gimmick weapons. Several fun game-modes that feel exciting and chaotic to play, and Clam Blitz, make for a game that’s fairly easy to pick up and play.

The ways in which it improves upon Splatoon 2 are small, but appreciable. It’s a great sequel not just if you want more multiplayer mayhem, but for the single-player experience. Both the story mode and the story and world itself. Splatoon’s world and lore remains as captivating as ever, especially with the new details the story mode teases.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3

xenoblade chronicles 3 screenshot

I don’t think this game is perfect, and my fondness for the story harshens in a tsundere way whenever people call it the best in the series (I still prefer the first Xenoblade Chronicles, dammit)! But my goodness this game is just really great in all areas. It might not beat out your favourite parts of 1 or 2, but it’s probably overall more consistently good than either. Perhaps less high highs, but nowhere near as low lows. And it really is gorgeous looking, cutscenes are a treat, and even if I have some gripes with the game’s flatter world design, the various locales of Aionios are incredible showpieces.

As I said in my review, it’s almost a game with too much content. Side quests contain important story details that make it too easy to breeze past everything to the end, and get an incomplete picture of what’s going on. But every cloud has a silver lining, and that probably just means I’ll enjoy the game even more when I revisit it with the goal of 100%, once the season pass DLC fully rolls out. I know for sure I’m looking forward to the new story chapter.

Kirby and the Forgotten Land

kirby forgotten land screenshot

As with a lot of recent Nintendo games, Kirby and the Forgotten Land had a series of developer interviews released ahead of the game’s launch. In it, HAL’s Kirby Team discussed the small tricks they used to make this game work – a fixed camera to make the controls simpler, hit detection that works based on if it looks like it hits rather than if it actually hits, and small level design touches to make progression obvious. They’re actually quite advanced techniques, but despite – or maybe even perhaps because – Kirby is a children’s game, HAL makes sure the game is foolproof. And they make it look easy. It’s unbelievable that this is Kirby’s first 3D platformer, it feels like they’ve been refining this style for years.

Aside from Kirby continuing to be the perfect example of “easy to learn, difficult to master” gameplay, Forgotten Land is just really damn good. While I still think I prefer the coup de gras of Planet Robobot, the ending sequence and final boss rush are as wonderful as always. And honestly, Forgotten Land has the best Dedede fight in the series yet. Which might just be worth the price of admission alone.

Return to Monkey Island

Return to Monkey Island

I think you have something special on your hands when the reveal trailer for your game simply announces that “Ron Gilbert is back to the series, heck, a lot of the old staff are, Murray the talking skull is in it, and Domonic Armato is still voicing Guybrush. That’s all Return to Monkey Island’s teaser trailer was, but I was immediately excited. Finally, another classic adventure game from some of the pioneers of the series, and thank goodness, it does not disappoint.

Gilbert clearly learned the right lessons from Thimbleweed Park, and has finally managed to nail down an ending that works, in its own crazy way. The puzzle design is also top notch, aided by what may be the single best hint system any game has ever had. If you’re an adventure game fan, you’ll love this one. And turn on the Writer’s Mode (for extra jokes and worse pacing), trust me, you don’t wanna miss this dialogue.

Chaos;Head NoAH

ChaosHead 6

It really hurts to recommend this game with the state it was released in. Underneath a translation that wasn’t given the time or care it deserved, lies a buggy port missing visual effects – who only recently got patched to make the true ending actually function properly. Science Adventure has a specific tone. This translation does not hit it, making choices that are individually reasonable but which together completely miss the style the series has otherwise consistently hit. It’s a kick in the teeth to receive this after so long. It’s an embarrassment that MAGES saw this as fit to release.

But underneath all that, is what might be my favourite visual novel of all time. Underneath the buggy port and scuffed translation is an incredibly earnest story about societal alienation, mental-trauma-as-cool-swords, empathy for the downtrodden, and self-recognition through the other. Once the fans swoop in to polish the mess MAGES have made – and trust me, the fans will. Hopefully the patch will be out by the time this top 5 list is – I hope people will give this game a better chance and see the incredibly tight script Naotaka Hayashi has crafted here. It’s a story who’s best ideas will only leap out at you after a bit of thinking, or maybe on a second read through. That kind of wonderful foreshadowing that hides itself in plain sight.

It’s just such a shame that MAGES’ release has left the game’s first impression so utterly shit.

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Madison Berge

A big fan of visual novels, and stories in general. Also a big fan of JRPGs of all kinds. Bring on the lengthy info-dump cutscenes!