I am never lacking for new games to play, whether they be actual new releases or just games I haven’t gotten around to trying yet. My Steam library is filled with titles I’ve purchased and plan on playing at some abstract point of time in the future. Occasionally I will play those games, or there’ll be another Steam sale and I’ll just add more to the pile while the rest collect dust… Anyways, my point is that 2022 had no shortage of excellent games to experience. Below is a list, in no particular order, of most of the ones I have played this year.
Even though this is an unordered list, it is fitting that Chrono Trigger is the first game I thought to add. This game was originally released in 1995 for the Super Nintendo and has since been ported to several other systems due to it’s overwhelming popularity. As I missed out on it’s original release and its later ports, I became interested when it finally got ported to PC through Steam. Playing it for the first time, it was apparent why this game is so widely loved and how it has stood the test of time; it’s a classic and everyone who enjoys RPGs and a great story should try it. The music, the characters, the pixel art style, the combat… it’s the whole package.
ELDEN RING, OOOO ELDEN RIII- Oh, excuse me, you caught me pretending to be the narrator again…
This game almost needs no introduction after the whirlwind year it had. Elden Ring was a highly anticipated game for Dark Souls gamers, and since it turned out to actually be worth the hype, it took the internet by storm. Playing this game and discovering its secrets at the same time as everyone else, and watching hilarious YouTube videos, was absolute magic. I’m usually late for this kind of gaming phenomenon, and I’m glad I caught the wave early on this one.
I had never played a Dark Souls game before until Elden Ring, and I wasn’t planning to play it at all until a couple of my friends (battle-hardened Dark Souls veterans) convinced me to play it with them. To say I was intimidated by this game, and the Dark Souls series in general, would be an understatement, but FromSoftware made this latest entry an accessible one. The world in Elden Ring is completely open, and players are free to go where they choose. This is great for me because if I get stuck on a certain area or boss, I can just explore in a different direction until I level up a bit more. Over time, I found that even though the game can be hard, it’s still a blast. And besides, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the friends made along the way…
If not for my amazing friends I might have never given Elden Ring a chance. I played the game mostly with them, and they patiently taught me how to “git gud” and spent a lot of time excitedly showing me cool places to go and loot to collect. When I think back on 2022, one of the highlights of the year is playing lots of Elden Ring with them. Elden Ring is my personal game of the year, and it was also fortuitously awarded Game of the Year at The Game Awards a couple weeks ago, and a lot of what makes this game so great for me is that time spent with some great buddies.
Even though I’ve posted about Hollow Knight previously, I felt I couldn’t exclude it from this list. This is a game I’ve begun and ended multiple times without even completing the game. Each time, I was lured back by the lovely art style, music, and mysterious story. And, finally, this is the year I saw this game through to its conclusion. Above everything else, I enjoyed the sense of exploration this game creates. It’s exciting to uncover new areas of the map and find hidden treasures, and nothing can beat the experience of journeying to the City of Tears for the first time and hearing that hauntingly beautiful music play. The cast of characters, while few and far between, are each memorable and quirky in their own way.
The boss fights were all unique and challenging in their own way – they challenged me to learn different patterns, almost like choreographing a dance. Even though players don’t earn levels or gain skill points in this game, there’s a simple way to upgrade and customize your character through Charms – items that enhance existing abilities or can even add brand new ones. The Knight’s rusty nail can be upgraded once the Nailsmith is found, provided you have the material and currency he requires to do his work. Finally completing this game has scratched the Hollow Knight itch for now, but I’m looking forward to diving back into it when Hollow Knight: Silksong is released.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon (Yakuza 7)
At this point, I’m not sure what more can be said on my love of the Yakuza franchise. Yakuza: Like a Dragon, or Yakuza 7, is the eighth and latest entry to the Yakuza series. I spent most of 2021 exclusively playing through the series in chronological order (starting with Yakuza: 0) in order to catch up to Like a Dragon, since this latest game switches to turn-based RPG-like gameplay. That, and I had seen some previews of the game that I thought looked incredible. Don’t get me wrong, I love the beat ’em up style fighting of the previous Yakuza games, but I also loved turn-based RPGs and I was excited to see how Yakuza pulled it off. Still, though, after having actually played though the entire series to get to Like a Dragon and experienced the story, there were some unexpected feelings that came along with this game.
On it’s own, Like a Dragon is an amazing game with an equally zany story that Yakuza players have grown to expect. The turn-based elements paired with traditional RPG features such as inventory management, classes, combo moves, and detailed friendship events for party members were done very well for a game that has previously featured a knuckle sandwich as its most prominent strategy for combat scenarios. Putting all that aside, Yakuza has featured Kiryu as its main character for seven games. By this point players have spent a lot of time getting to know him before the books are closed on his story at the end of Yakuza 6: The Song of Life. Ichiban will carry the torch forward as the new main protagonist, and even though he is a lovable guy with a strong personality capable of taking Yakuza into its future, I can’t help but miss Kiryu and wonder how he’d react to the events of the game. On the other hand, two new Yakuza games announced for next year are confirmed to include Kiryu as a protagonist, so we won’t have to wait long…
Judgement & Lost Judgement (Yakuza Spin-offs)
Judgement and Lost Judgement are spin-off games that take place in the Yakuza universe, after Yakuza 6 and 7 respectively. They follow a different protagonist, Yagami, a defense lawyer turned private detective. With the help of his longtime friend Kaito, formerly Tojo Clan Yakuza, he gathers evidence to solve crimes around Kamurocho. While the game has a similar feel compared to other Yakuza games, it offers an entirely new perspective on Yakuza and organized crime in general. In the main Yakuza games, we play mostly as Kiryu, Majima, or Ichiban and as such we see the story through their perspective. Kiryu joined the Tojo Clan to follow in Kazama’s footsteps, much to the dismay of Kazama himself. Kazama raised Kiryu like his own, and because of that he is Kiryu’s hero. Kiryu saw Kazama as his hero, and his example of what strength and honor should look like within the Yakuza – even though Kazama committed some very dishonorable acts, but that’s a different story. My main point is that the Yakuza organization is mainly viewed from Kiryu’s perspective, or the perspective of people like him (Majima and Ichiban.) At their core, these characters are optimists who see the Yakuza for what they could and should be, and use their strength and beliefs to change the organization for the better. Yagami, even though one of his father figures is a Yakuza patriarch who funded his law school degree – and was what can be considered a good man, does not view the Yakuza in that way.
Judgement and Lost Judgements can be slightly jarring because players see Yakuza more realistically – as criminals. While playing these games, I could really appreciate how rare a person like Kiryu is – a man willing to walk the line between black and white and all the while hold onto his own values. Judgement shows the messy side of the Yakuza; the unredeemable characters. Playing as lawyer/PI Yagami was a fun change of pace and, ignoring the main Yakuza series, these games are fun on their own. They still have the charming cast of characters one would come to expect from a Yakuza game, yet are still different enough to keep things interesting. For example, being a (mostly) law abiding citizen for once was a nice change of pace, and playing detective in order to fit all the pieces to the puzzle together was my kind of fun.
Stray was a short game, but definitely a sweet one. It follows a cat separated from the rest of its group, who ends up in some sort of cyberpunk dystopian city where the only inhabitants are robots. While it’s mostly a walking simulator kind of game with no combat, there are some fun puzzles and platforming. The game itself is designed very well and I loved the art style, especially where the robots are concerned. The city players spend most of their time in is filled with nooks and crannies to explore, and eccentric robots to talk to. It’s hard to explain how this game made me feel, but it was very “cozy” and I enjoyed every minute of exploring through it. I enjoy sci-fi games with robots, and especially funny robots like the ones in this game, so my only wish is that Stray gets a sequel after the sad but cute ending.
Mass Effect 1
Like Chrono Trigger, Mass Effect is a series I knew about due to its insane popularity but just never got around to trying. Part of the reason I stayed away from Mass Effect is because of its third person shooter combat style that I have never been good at. When I finally gave it a chance I found that I almost instantly loved the game, and even enjoyed the shooter style combat. This game is much more than being just a shooter, however, and the epic sci-fi story combined with dialogue choices and exploring the galaxy in a cool space ship with equally cool alien friends got me hooked. The game focuses its attention on political conflicts involving the different alien races players meet throughout the game, and how Shepard (and the colorful characters she meets) reacts to those conflicts. A true RPG, players can choose to be a heroic, pure-hearted Shepard or a much darker “ends justify the means” type of character. I’m currently playing Mass Effect 2 and it improves upon the strong foundation set in this first entry into the trilogy.