When I began reviewing games, I always wanted my top games to be something I reviewed. However, looking at my current list, I find that no game I reviewed ended up here, and while I struggled to pick my favorites in a year filled with fantastic games, every one of them had been something I played in my own time between individual reviews.
Whether this is because I like to seek out games with a weird concept, titles that can easily be the best games in the world or absolute trash, it’s a gamble I happily participate in. But, looking back, I think I came ahead in my bet with a few safe games to round out one of the most packed years.
5. Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers
Dating sims have always been a core interest of mine, handling the complexity of human relationships broken down into various attributes represented by numbers. There is a simple beauty in this game style, and the act of managing an e-sports team for the most popular game, Fist of Discomfort 2, instantly drew my attention. Arcade Spirits is an excellent time for a relatively quick read, with enough choices mixed throughout the narrative to hold most gamers’ interest. The characters are also interesting, even though they follow pretty clear archetypes like FPS or RPG.
There is even a bit of mystery hidden to mix in-between tournaments and practices with your team. No doubt, this can get busy for a narrative, but it is still short enough that the game is over by the time you start to think about it. If you ever wondered if love could bloom in the Massively Online Battle Arena, then check out Arcade Spirits.
4. Chaos;Head Noah
Chaos;Head Noah took me by surprise this year, I had previously heard about the Science Adventure series, but a mixture of the fan base and content scared me away. However, hearing about it from various friends made me curious to pick this up. Still, I’m glad I caved and purchased it on the Nintendo Switch. The writing has a way of sucking you in and is the first visual novel I’ve experienced that used its medium to enhance my experience.
These enhancements come from the sound design and voice actor that, while still in Japanese, has a way of parting emotions from cringe to pure abject horror as a situation slowly descends into madness. The choices in Chaos;Head isn’t as frequent as Arcade Spirits, but allowing players to choose what type of delusion Takumi is about to have, is exciting and drives replay value to see what crazy situation he will imagine next. This game is a sleeper hit and one I can’t stop telling everyone to check out.
3. Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero
The Legend of Heroes is another series I didn’t expect to get into this year, but it came from a similar interest of friends wanting me to play the games. I caved and initially bounced off the series a few times, but something finally clicked, getting to play on my console of choice. Trails from Zero is an old arc in the franchise, but up until now, it was only playable in English, thanks to fan translations. However, an official release finally happened thanks to the partnership between NIS America and the fan-translation Geofront team.
The greatest strength of this franchise is the ability to craft believable characters that are a joy to see interact. Furthermore, it also features a world actively reaching a technological boom, with a compelling hook to keep players interested. While it can be a bit of a short title, and considering it’s quite divorced from Trails in the Sky, it could be an excellent start for anybody looking to get into the series. I recommend picking up this title and seeing where the city of Crossbell can take you.
2. Ghostwire: Tokyo
Ghostwire: Tokyo was a game I had been excited about since its initial reveal in 2019. The wait was excruciating, but when it was finally in my hands, I was left satisfied with my experiences in Tokyo. The game’s tone feels like an open-world horror game navigating streets filled with various spirits and yokai to hunt. Power scaling is also very rewarding, and it is addicting to take on any spirit without any preparation during the end game.
While not a true horror game, Ghostwire: Tokyo revels in the atmosphere for one and is one of the best titles that Bethesda has produced in a long time. If anybody is looking to explore the streets of Tokyo when people are no longer the dominant occupants, this is a must-play game.
1. I was a Teenage Exocolonist
I was a Teenage Exocolonist has got to be one of the biggest gambles I took this year. The concept is a mixture of life-sim with deck-building mechanics turning each significant moment in life into a card that players will use to pass skill checks. Each life lived brings new experiences that will happen and impact how players approach each situation.
I spent a total of 36 hours with this game, and that was in the span of two days. I called off work after this marathon session, unable to think after living through three separate, distinct lives. Yes, this title impacted me and made me think about how experiences change someone. Even now, I am thinking about the various choices I made and whether or not I could make better ones to make the next life better for myself and my fellow colonists.
This title makes my gamble worth it, the gem scattered across a sea of games that is easy to miss if not searched. It is a shame that this game did not receive the award for Games for Impact. Although, if it is any consolation, I was a Teenage Exocolonist will be a game that I will talk about for years to come. One that I will forever say that everybody needs to experience.
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