How can I possibly be putting together a best of 2020 post when it’s still just March? We’re not the sort of site that tends to run that far ahead… usually we’re more of the “leave stuff half finished until Nick feels like it’s been too long since he’s written something” site. Or when there’s news. Or we feel like ranting.
In preparation for this, I went back and looked at the stuff we’d called out as what we were looking forward to in 2020 and, shock of shocks, very little of that either happened or came to the front. I can’t speak for Ace or Eric on all of it, but looking at the games we were looking forward to, it was a shaky year. For me, all of my anticipated games really crapped out. Cyberpunk 2077 is a tire-fire of quality wrapped around a forced-crunch and middling open world. Watch Dogs: Legion came out to no fanfare, weirdly, because it launched against an Assassin’s Creed game that took most of the momentum and was put out by a company that aids and protects sexual predators. The sequel to Seluna’s Sacrifice still has no release date, only a trailer that came out during the Xbox Series X trailer roll before launch.
The Last of Us Part II was on the list for Ace, and I know he played it (we all did), but the game for me ranks as one of the year’s biggest disappointments. It’s… fine, I guess, but the plot was heavy-handed, the gameplay more frustrating than fun, and you’re constantly railroaded away from any choices with consequences that it just wasn’t an enjoyable experience for me. Hollow Knight: Silksong and Metroid Prime 4 don’t have release dates (Metroid Prime was famously scrapped and restarted at the beginning of the year).
That sort of played out as a theme for a lot of the stuff on our list (especially movies). Let’s not even get into the debacle that was the launch of the next generation systems, or how movies that have been ready for a year have been languishing somewhere waiting for studios to reopen.
While almost all industries have taken it to the shins in the decade that was 2020, the Video Game industry was not among them. With everyone trapped inside, and those with a lick of sense staying there, consoles sold out quickly at the start of the pandemic and stayed sold out until shortly before the next gen launch, when they were replaced with new sold out consoles.
It’s been a weird year for games, all things considered. The launch of the next gen Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 only included a couple of exclusive games for the new console (or in the case of the Xbox… no exclusive games). The hottest title, Miles Morales, was available on the PS4. By the accounts of the handful of people who got the system (as compared to the scalpers trying to turn them on eBay), the best game for the console was a tech demo thrown in with it for free. Yeah, Demon Souls for those who like it is obviously a highlight as well, but even some die-hard fans tired of it pretty quickly.
Since this was a year in review of sorts, I had fully intended to go back to last year’s predictions/”what we’re looking forward to in 2020″ post just so that I can compare what I thought I’d play/see/enjoy to what I actually played/saw/enjoyed. Nick started this draft and since video games was at first category to cover, I didn’t bother looking anything up because there is only one game that was a true stand-out super-enjoyable game for me: Final Fantasy VII Remake.
Final Fantasy VII Remake is my game of the year. It’s one of the few games I didn’t want to finish but liked playing so much that finishing was an unavoidable eventuality. I don’t remember much from the first release of the game way back in the late 90’s but the one thing about it that’s always stayed with me was the music. The music takes me back to a specific slice of time of my college days playing the original game on the PlayStation system before the console sported numbers after the name. The victory song, the battle music, the sound of the disc spinning up and the whoosh sound effect as the game pauses slightly just before the screen twists when you enter a battle. Okay, that last one isn’t recreated in the remake version, but the first two are there even if they sound slightly different. I guess because it’s a remake, it’s supposed to sound bigger and grander. And it does, but the notes are the same. Look, I’m not a music guy, so I don’t think I can really explain what it is that I’m try to say, but the soundtrack is different and familiar at the same time.
In the remake, grinding for XP wasn’t so much as a chore as it was recess from the main game. Often in other JRPG’s it can be the exact opposite but I was more than happy to grind away in various spots to max out all my materia orbs and weapon stats. Graphically, it is such eye candy. Sure, graphics may not be everything, it’s more like the icing on the cake. But the icing here is layered on top of a rich story experience, enjoyable game play, and engaging battle system. It took me a bit to get used to the default controls; I think I was trying to get my head out of the old turn-based system. But once everything clicked, boy was it fun. Sometimes, having to play a game multiple times to get certain trophies (*cough* Resident Evil 2 *cough*) can be such a chore, but every once in a while it’s not. This is one of those games where it wasn’t.
The story was pretty engaging up until the very last battle. After that it was… I don’t know, convoluted? Hard to follow? I couldn’t really make sense of it. I was just kind of going along for the ride. I don’t think I really was aware of how little I understood of the story until my second playthrough on hard mode. My kids were watching me during the final battles and was asking who Sephiroth was and why I was fighting him and what was happening to the city and what the flying ghosts were. I’m pretty sure I answered every single one of those questions with “I don’t know” because I honestly didn’t. Maybe it’s because this is just the first chapter in a multi-game remake (even though it’s not noted in the title in any way) and the story will be better fleshed out once you can experience the next chapter. In this game though, all the beginning and middle stuff with meeting the characters and understanding their motivations and why the plot was moving forward was all fine and dandy but once I got to the point of no return at the end game, I got completely lost. Shrug. It might be the weakest element of what is an otherwise stellar game. Despite that though, Final Fantasy VII Remake is hands down my favorite game this year.
The Last of Us Part II came and went. It didn’t quite have as an emotional impact for me as Part I did. It looked great, played great, I got the platinum trophy, but it certainly pales in comparison to my experience with FFVIIR.
I got bitten by the Splatoon 2 bug again and it takes up the majority of my gamimg time these days. Given the state of the nation, pandemic, and just the overwhelming sense of dread and exhaustion from those two things, Splatoon 2.
And a last honorable mention to My Backlog. It, My backlog, hasn’t really shrunk all that much. You’d think with all the social restrictions and stay at home orders, I’d have made a good chunk of progress going through some of the it, but, nope, I haven’t and I don’t feel bad about that at all. It sits there, in a pile on my TV console shelf, comforting me from a distance like a rocky outcrop along a scenic cliff.
One last note, this is the probably the most writing I’ve done for a single post in a long time. I’ve been on vacation mode for awhile now and I think I’m a bit rusty translating the thoughts and feelings in my head into words on a screen. I felt like I was all over the place on this one.
This is a weird one for me. I’m still riding on the high of 2019’s Resident Evil 2 and The Outer Wilds (please play them ASAP), and I feel like nearly every game I’ve played since I end up comparing to one of them. It’s like when I first played Dark Souls so many years ago. Every other game just falls flat. Resident Evil 2 is a perfect game in every way. And I have such an emotional connection with The Outer Wilds and can still clearly remember not only every detail of it, but how I felt playing it, almost half a year later.
Almost every other game I played this year just didn’t hold up, and I played a lot. Resident Evil 3, while great, failed to carry on the momentum Resident Evil 2 gave to it. Ori and the Will of the Wisps felt unnecessary and forgettable. Microsoft Flight Simulator was magical for the first few hours, but then I quickly realized “oh, it’s just flying straight for hours at a time.” Final Fantasy 7 Remake was far too stretched out and could have easily been stripped down to 2/3 or even half of it’s length (sorry, Ace). Cyberpunk 2077 caught me on the hype train and I refunded it one hour in. I almost bought Ghosts of Tshushima before Nick reminded me for the 50th time that I really don’t like open world games.
So where does that leave me? Well, with a whopping 160 hours in Hades.
That’s insane to me, because it still feels so fresh and new. My two other favorite Rougelikes, Binding of Isaac and Enter the Gungeon, tapered off after far less than 100 hours, before I’d pick them up again a year or so later. Not so with Hades. I’ve been playing it consistently since I bought it in September.
It’s been on the top of most everyone’s list this year, and it’s because Hades caters to an incredible amount of people. It’s a very easy rogue-like, insofar that randomness doesn’t play a huge factor. It has a visual novel quality with some great voice acting and characters, and some romance options (ooh!). You can scale your own difficulty, so there’s always a higher bar for skilled players to try and reach. Plus, it’s just good fun.
Unlike most roguelikes, where a skill ceiling is offset by randomness, with Hades, I can determinetly say I have mastered it. I’ve gotten all 49 achievements. I’ve beat a 32 Heat Run (the hardest thing ever) after about 8 hours of trying. I’ve unlocked almost everything in game except the really grindy stuff. There are no more worlds for me to conquer, and yet I keep coming back. I like listening to podcasts, and Hades is a wonderful podcast game. Now that I’ve exhausted most of the dialogue options and beat the story, I can turn off my brain and just kind of relax. So after 140 hours, Hades now comfortably sits among my other favorite roguelikes. I’m sure I’ll drift away from it eventually, but for now I’m just enjoying the ride.
Let’s talk about comfort food for a bit. The food that brings you some level of happiness or calm when you need it. I’m not talking the trend of stress eating or the like (something that my fat butt certainly knows about in 2020), but the little things that you just know you can always go to for a bit of enjoyment.
For me, 2020 has been a year of Comfort Food style video games. The most time I put into a game this year, I’m a bit ashamed to say, was Activision’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. I used to love the CoD games, but after the disappointment that was Black Ops III, the absolute crap-fest that was BO 4 and the shameless tie-in to lock the Modern Warfare remastered behind a collector’s edition, I just stopped playing the games. I hadn’t been doing a ton of console gaming, anyway, so most FPS games weren’t getting played by me. Yeah, I know, mouse and keyboard and the stupidity of PC Master Race and all that… but I prefer playing them with a controller and on my couch.
Unfortunately, Activision is still gotta Activision, which means stuffing it with microtransactions, a season pass, and dropping it like it was on fire because the new game is out. I have Cold War… in fact, it’s the only game I’ve “bought” for my Xbox Series X, but I haven’t gotten into it enough to put it on this list.
Instead, most of my year went into several different games. I still play Magic the Gathering: Arena on an almost daily basis; Magic is dead in the physical space with COVID shutdowns, so Arena has been where it’s at as of late. I jump between MMOs that I’ve enjoyed on and off, like Star Trek Online, or more recently, World of Warcraft. I’ve been playing it since a couple of months before the new expansion, Shadowlands, came out, and it’s been fun. No idea how long I’ll stick with it… I have several months of time saved up on it so can play it at my own rate, but WoW will always be my comfort game when I want a little bit of mindless fun.
Even though I haven’t done as much console gaming this year, I certainly did some of it. I played a ton of Final Fantasy VII Remake, though like most long games, never got around to finishing it. I will, someday… I ended about 2/3rds of the way through the game and was really enjoying it. I liked the updated looks, the music was still amazing, and it looks gorgeous. They actually did manage to fix a few little things, and the sheer, over-the-top bonkers nature of some stuff somehow worked (looking at you, Honeybee Inn dace scene). I also played Hades, despite not really liking Roguelikes, though not nearly as much as Eric did. Ghosts of Tsushima was great, but I didn’t get as far as I liked with it before being distracted. I didn’t like The Last of Us Part II, so it’s not going on here.
Ultimately, though, if I’m going for the game of 2020 that I put a lot of time in to, found relaxing, and was a way for me to connect across distances with my friends… I’m going to pick a game that a ton of people played, and is drastically different from everything else I mentioned… Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
I spent a lot of time through the spring and summer chilling on my island, opening it up for friends to visit, and just arranging everything. My daughter and I shared an island, we had fun setting it up, and it was just a good little game. I’d never played an Animal Crossing game before this; I didn’t really know anything about them, to be honest.
It’s also, far and away, the biggest game of 2020 that was actually good (as of November, it’d sold 14.5 million copies, and likely went even higher than that over the holidays). Yeah, the clownshow that is Cyberpunk sold a ton of copies in the past month, but also issued a bunch of refunds and got delisted. How much of that success is directly tied to the fact that it came out at the absolute perfect time… March 20th, which was right around when most lockdowns were first taking effect. Just think… if we would have stayed locked down with our islands for a few months more, this would have been a normal holiday and not the crap factory we got in pandemic land.
I’ll be honest, I haven’t gone back to my island in a few months, and skipped the holiday stuff. I’ve been working on other things, and in general, doing a bit less gaming and a bit more miniature painting instead. That being said, New Horizons is still the game that defined my year, and in a lot of ways, kept me sane.