I think it’s generally agreed that 2021 is more or less similar to how 2020 was, with the pandemic unfortunately forever changing how we live our day-to-day lives. Nonetheless, this has been a monumental year for games, especially indie ones, and here are a few that I loved the most!
5. Death’s Gambit: Afterlife
By now, you should know that I am a fan of anything Souls-like, and Death’s Gambit: Afterlife does more than pass the time while waiting for Elden Ring. Afterlife is a passion project that shows the developer’s dedication to perfecting a diamond in the rough that was the original release back in 2018. The developers took in the feedback and criticism from both fans and critics and more than doubled the size of the game by introducing a multitude of quality of life changes, areas, weapons, and bosses.
Death’s Gambit: Afterlife uses a stamina-based combat system with dodges, much akin to a traditional Souls game. There’s a class-based RPG upgrade path and a slew of weapons to utilize and master. This game is more than just a Souls-like, though, as it is also a Metroidvania, including a double jump, a dash, a ground smash, etc. Bosses are exhilarating and challenging, with each one introducing a refreshing new moveset to learn and adapt to. This is a rare case of a successful comeback that wouldn’t settle for less in the Afterlife.
4. Final Fantasy VII Remake Episode Intermission
I cheated a bit here. Technically, Final Fantasy VII Remake was released in 2020, and Episode Intermission was released earlier this year, but it’s a DLC and not a complete game. However, I loved it so much I wanted to put it as part of my Top Five Games of 2021. Though this DLC which focuses on Yuffie Kisaragi, is quite a short-lived one, the amount of polish and replayability here is just astonishing. I don’t need to go into detail about how supreme the hybrid real-time and tactical turn-based of the base game was, but that formula is just as excellent here, if not better.
The excellent visuals and music return from the base game, with remixed and remade versions of the original Final Fantasy VII themes. Multiple characters from the universe appear as legendary boss encounters, such as Weiss the Immaculate and Nero the Sable that made me even more excited about what’s to come in the next segment of the game.
I’m a bit disappointed that Episode Intermission was just story filler to introduce Yuffie into the Remake universe in preparation for Part II. She had no ties with Cloud and his crew. Nonetheless, this Intermission served as a reason to go back and replay Final Fantasy VII Remake again in 60 frames per second with the updated PlayStation 5 patch.
3. Death’s Door
Don’t let the name of the game fool you because Death’s Door is one of the cutest games I’ve ever seen, as Studio Ghibli inspired the developers, and the artwork shows it! But yes, this game is about death, and you play as a young crow newly employed as a reaper of souls. This gem of an indie game cleverly combines the nostalgic factor of old school Legend of Zelda gameplay with a sprinkle of Dark Souls difficulty to create an experience nothing short of brilliant.
The topic of death isn’t an easy one to take in. Still, somehow Acid Nerve manages to tell a tale about coming to terms with death woven together by an extraordinarily crafted world with tidbits of witty humor interjected every now and then. Death’s Door undoubtedly stands out in a sea of indie games with its gentle learning curve, brain-teasing puzzles, artful aesthetic, and beautiful soundtrack.
2. Nioh 2: The Complete Edition
I almost forgot about this game, considering it was initially released in 2020, but The Complete Edition came out at the beginning of this year to PlayStation 5 and PC. I beat the original Nioh 2 on the PlayStation 4 but revisited it after the PlayStation 5 edition came out and platinumed it along with all 3 of its DLCs in 2021. In my humble opinion, Nioh 2 is almost, in every way, an improvement on the original Nioh. Team Ninja outdid themselves because I would consider Nioh 2 the best Soulslike game without actually being developed by From Software. The sheer amount of content, mechanics, customization, replayability, and overall quality of life changes make this game a must-play for any fans of brutal combat, tons of loot, and Japanese history.
Nioh 2 loosely follows the life of Toyotomi Hideyoshi during the Sengoku period of Japan, along with Nioh‘s signature inclusion of supernatural yokai. The game is more accessible than the first but still packs a challenge to newcomers and veterans of the genre alike. Gameplay-wise, there’s still the management of ki (or stamina) and the different weapon stances, but with the addition of soul cores, yokai abilities, and counters. Enemy variety and design are immaculate, and the co-op experience is seamless.
For some reason, every aspect of this game captivates me in a way words cannot describe. From the beautifully drawn visuals and the bopping beats of the soundtrack to the compelling narrative and the additive characters, Eastward is the definition of retro perfection. It perfectly combines the old-school nostalgic vibes of Earthbound and Zelda with the standards of a modern indie role-playing game. Heck, it exceeds the expectations of many triple-A games as well!
I rarely ever come across a game that puts my East Asian culture in the spotlight by an Asian development team. Most Eastern games I encounter are Japanese-themed games oversaturated with schoolgirls or samurais typically created by Western developers. This goes the same vice versa as well, seeing Eastern developers heavily influenced from the West, often focusing on medieval knights or dragons. Eastward was developed by three friends in Shanghai and successfully invoked a sense of nostalgia while enveloping me in a scintillating adventure filled with blooming colors and traces of my heritage. This game is a masterpiece, and I cannot recommend it enough!
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