Tuesday, December 13, 2022

My favorite games of 2022

Something I have to get out of the way right at the start: 2022 has been a weird year for me. In all sorts of ways, but especially when it comes to video games.

Although I played many more games in 2021 and 2020 than I did in, say, 2018 and before, this year has felt like a real step back. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the number of games I finished this year: a measly six.

At least I enjoyed four of the six games I finished this year enough to call them favorites. (Actually, I also enjoyed one of the remaining two, but it was released before 2022 and so doesn't fit in here.)

What four games am I talking about? Kirby and the Forgotten Land, Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling into DarknessPokémon Legends: Arceus, and Yurukill: The Calumniation Games. I'm also talking about Live A Live, which I sadly have yet to finish.

Kirby and the Forgotten Land (Switch)

I have a spotty history with the Kirby franchise. During my youth, I turned my nose up at its NES, SNES, and GameBoy releases because I thought they were for kids who'd never played any "real" games. It wasn't until I tried a few of Kirby's Nintendo DS releases--and then, quickly, some of the earlier ones I'd missed--that I realized the error of my ways. Yes, Kirby games are for kids, but they're also for adults--and everyone between. The only people they're not for are curmudgeons who hate all things cute, colorful or fun.

That remains true for The Forgotten Land, even with its dramatic move into the third dimension. To be honest, although I enjoyed pretty much every component of this game--from its candy-coated visuals, to its jubilant soundtrack, to its thrilling boss encounters--I most got a kick out of exploring its multitude of environments. If the only point of The Forgotten Land were to walk and hop and float from a stage's starting point to its exit, I still would've been perfectly happy with my purchase.

Live A Live (Switch)

Live A Live is one of those (formerly) Japan-only RPGs I've wanted to play since it first released. Oh, I know an English fan translation of it has been out in the wild for ages, and I even gave it a (brief) go nearly as long ago, but for whatever reason it just didn't click with me at the time. I'd say the exact opposite about this HD-2D remake, even though I've yet to finish it. I've thoroughly enjoyed the four stories I've played through thus far, and that's nothing to sneeze at, if you ask me.

As for why that is, well, for starters, I like that each of Live A Live's stories take a few hours to beat, tops. Although my teenage self loved to tackle RPGs that demanded 100-ish hours to conquer, my current, much older self doesn't have the time or energy for such things more than once or twice a year. Just as importantly, though, I dig how unique and varied the stories and characters are within Live A Live. I mean, one puts you in the shoes (boots?) of a cowboy in the Old West; another plops you into the life of a lovelorn caveman.

Admittedly and obviously, such short stories lack the depth of the ones that serve as the backbones to comparable epics like Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, or Xenoblade, but I'm OK with that in this instance. For me, the breadth of the stories offered up here, along with the interesting ways in which they're told, trump the missing dimension.

Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling into Darkness (PC, PS4, Switch)

Before Binary Star Falling into Darkness was announced, I'd never even heard of Made in Abyss. I tend to like Spike Chunsoft-made games, though, and I liked the look and sound of this one, so I pre-ordered it at my earliest opportunity. While I awaited its release, I bought and read the first volume of the manga and watched the first two episodes of the manga. I enjoyed both, despite the dark tone and gory imagery, so was pretty sure I'd appreciate this game adaptation.

Boy, did I ever. Not right away, though. The game's "Hello Abyss" mode, which was mandatory upon release and basically acts as a tutorial, intrigued but also annoyed. It feels quite restricted, plus it tells an extremely minimalistic version of the anime's and manga's story. It wasn't until I started my way through the "Deep in Abyss" mode that I truly fell in love with Binary Star Falling into Darkness. Here, the game feels like an offshoot of the Shiren the Wanderer series in the best possible way. It feels like a distinct offshoot, though, offering plenty of unique twists and turns that make it seem like a real-time jaunt through a good chunk on Made in Abyss' nightmarish world.

Truth be told, there were times when Binary Star Falling into Darkness made me want to break my Switch over my knee or fling it into the nearest wall thanks to some of its odd gameplay choices and overall jankiness. For the most part, though, I couldn't put it down. In fact, I wanted to keep on playing it well past its credit roll, and that took me 80-plus hours to reach.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus (Switch)

As with the aforementioned Kirby, my experience with the vaunted Pokémon series is complicated. Although things between us started out positively enough--I played and finished and loved Pokémon Red at some point not too long after it released in the U.S.--they went downhill shortly after. To the point that I didn't finish another Pokémon game until Let's Go: Eevee came out in late 2018.

Since then, I've finished two more Pokémon games: Shield in 2019 and this one earlier in the year. I'll be honest here: I think Legends may be my favorite of the bunch. And not just the bunch, but of all the Pokémon games I've played to date (and I've played at least a bit of all of them). Why? The gist is that I enjoyed the freedom of it. Although I've liked a lot of the Pokémon games I've played, they've all felt a bit too straightforward. Legends felt anything but. On a related note, I loved and appreciated how you can avoid battles altogether in Legends and instead just catch wild Pokémon by sneaking up on and chucking Poké Balls at them. 

I also appreciated that Legends didn't overstay its welcome. I finished it in just over 45 hours; smack dab in the middle of my personal sweet spot as far as RPGs are concerned.

Yurukill: The Calumniation Games (PC, PS5. PS4, Switch)

When Yurukill was revealed, I assumed it would literally be half visual novel and half shmup. I was unsure if I would like it based on this--I'm hardly the world's biggest shmup fan, and I've only recently come around to VNs--but I pre-ordered it anyway because I tend to enjoy games that dare to combine disparate genres. (See: NIS' Void Terrarium and Mad Rat Dead.)

By the end of its first chapter, it was clear to me that Yurukill was more, and better, than I imagined it would be. For starters, it's really more of a mashup of an escape-room adventure game and a bullet-hell shmup, if you want to be specific. More importantly, it's not a straight half-and-half affair. Quiz-focused trial segments regularly interrupt and invigorate the proceedings. They also help bring everything together and make Yurukill feel more like a cohesive experience than it would otherwise.

Also helping matters is that every component of Yurukill is of a certain quality. And I'm not just talking about the adventure and shmup gameplay here; I'm talking about the character art, the soundtrack, and the voice work, too. Honestly, that last element may be the standout of Yurukill for me, especially Yu Kobayashi's brilliant, bonkers, giddy turn as the game's antagonist, Binko.

BONUS: My favorite games of 2022 that weren't released in 2022
  • Chack'n Pop (PS4, Switch)
  • The Fairyland Story (PS4, Switch)
  • The House in Fata Morgana (PC, PS4, Switch, Vita)
  • Pocket Card Jockey (3DS)
  • Rainbow Islands (PC Engine)
  • Rusty's Real Deal Baseball (3DS)