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Your Favorite Games of 2021 (and/or Your Favorite Game You Played for the First Time in 2021)

Issun

Avarice
My GOTY so far is Death's Door. Gorgeous both visually and aurally, nearly perfect combat, a story that hits on some pretty great themes. It's almost all perfection except for the enemy mob rooms. I'm also enjoying Tales of Arise, though we'll see if that can supplant the Crow Game.

It's also my favorite game I've played this year (excluding replays, obviously), though shoutouts to Monkey Island 2, Live A Live, Phantasy Star IV and Grim Fandango as well.
 
Top ten favorite new games of 2021, broken into a few tiers for fun:

01 Luck Be a Landlord
02 Super Auto Pets
-
03 Astalon: Tears of the Earth
04 Guardians of the Galaxy
05 Dreamscaper
06 PowerWash Simulator
-
07 Subnautica: Below Zero
08 Pureya
09 Alwa's Legacy
10 Bravely Default 2
11 Luna's Fishing Garden
12 Maneater

There were plenty of others I played and enjoyed (Sunblaze, Tales of Arise, Arkos, etc), but not enough that I want to actually put them on a "top" list like this. Most of the pre-2021 games I played the first time this year were similarly fine but not noteworthy, though there were a handful that were genuinely great:

01 Yakuza: Like a Dragon
02 Subnautica
03 Ring of Pain
04 Mass Effect

If I mushed the two lists together, I'd probably put Yakuza as tops overall, Subnautica somewhere else in the top tier group, and the rest somewhere in the bottom half.
 

ThornGhost

lofi posts to relax/study to
(he/him)
I reserve the right to amend this later, but it just might be Valheim. Playing weekly with my friends during the pandemic was amazing. The sense of danger and mystery when moving into new biomes, the trechery of ocean voyaging, the camrarderie when gearing up on a journey, the excitement each time we took down a new enemy that had previously bested us - all of it is deeply hard to shake. I was left wanting more and that is a very rare thing indeed.
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
I don’t think anything SANTA LAW is preventing me from touching will affect my overall ranking (high expectations for Shovel Knight and Unsighted, however), buuuut

Best Troid:
Metroid: Dread

Best Fake Old Game:
Astalon: Tears of the Earth

Best Game I Technically Already Bought a Bunch
Mass Effect: Legendary Collection

Best Depiction of Ninja
Cyber Shadow

Best Game I Didn’t Play Until This Year
Star Renegades

Best Varmints
Banner of Ruin

Best Bouncy Varmint Simulator
Beastbreaker

Best DLC
Streets of Rage 4: Mr. Xs Nightmare
 

q 3

here to eat fish and erase the universe
(they/them)
In two very different ways, The Caligula Effect 2 and Blue Reflection: Second Light came closer than ever to the game I've wanted ever since playing Persona 3 Portable. Two all-time favorite JRPGs despite their faults, both significantly improved over their promising but extremely flawed prequels.

I'm too much of an introvert even online to have gotten into Mafia/Werewolf type games, so I particularly appreciated Gnosia for providing a single-player approximation which I know is very different but makes for a fine strategy game with a sparse but intriguing sci-fi narrative.

All three of those are unambiguously queer, not sure whether that's just a coincidence...

Honorable mentions: Metroid Dread, Axiom Verge 2, Deltarune Chapter 2, Fatal Twelve
 

Yimothy

Red Plane
(he/him)
This one apparently came out December 24 last year, but my GOTY 2021 is GG Aleste 3. It’s rad. The whole Aleste Collection is pretty great, in fact.

King’s Field is a strong contender for best new to me game.

Another old game, and my nomination for best fan translation released this year (assuming I get it out soon), is Pleasure Hearts for MSX. Big year for 8-bit shmups for me, I guess.
 
Best Remake: (Tie) Mass Effect Legendary Edition and Legend of Mana
Best Chill Game: Unpacking runner up: New Pokemon Snap
Best Board Game Adaptation: Wingspan
Best Expansions: (tie) Spiritfarer and Hyrule Warriors Age of Calamity
Best Sequel: Halo Infinite, runner up: Persona 5 Strikers
Best Couch Co-op: Keywe
Best non-couch Co-op: Operation Tango
Best Game I didn't expect to like: Bustafellows
Best Game I don't actually like playing but am impressed by: Inscryption
Best Game I like but it's mainly due to my Czech heritage: Svobada 1945
 

Lokii

It's always time for burgers
(He/Him)
Staff member
Moderator
Crash 4, Sekiro, and Kid Icarus Uprising are way up there for me. SaGa Frontier HD too.

I guess I don't play many new games. :(
 

JBear

Internet's foremost Bertolli cosplayer
(He/Him)
In no particular order: Star Renegades, Inscryption, Disco Elysium, and Griftlands. Good GOATs, one and all.
 
Definitely poured the most time into Mass Effect Legendary Edition, but Metroid Dread is sublime and FFXIV Endwalker totally blows away everything.

I'll definitely give an honorable mention to Inscryption though, hot damn that game is a rollercoaster.
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
If I've written about a game to a particular extent, it'll be linked to via its title so I won't have to repeat myself.

Games of 2021
  • The Caligula Effect 2
  • Touhou Kouryuudou ~ Unconnected Marketeers - the newest game in my favourite series, and more than anything I'm glad that Touhou still exists and has stayed true to itself while also always experimenting with every game that comes out. ZUN's maturing as a creator and honing his craft and particular creative voice is as much a point of celebration as the individual qualities of the games themselves.
  • Dungeon Encounters - a bafflingly good fusion of multiple disparate but cohesive in unison strands of RPG tradition, arranged such that you will never play a game like this anywhere else. Extremely evocative for how little it says and divulges, leaving one's imagination to support the rest. As a game space to explore and parse, unparalleled in the mistakes it allows one to make and the freedom of choice that lives in those decisions.
  • Astalon: Tears of the Earth
  • Labyrinth of Touhou: Gensokyo and the Heaven-piercing Tree
  • Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth - while not as inspired and attuned to appealing cross-genre specifics as their earlier work Luna Nights, Team Ladybug's only competition in the search action space are themselves. In pixel art and animation you will find none better, and their ability to key in on the essence of whatever licensed property they work on and refine it further is nothing short of habitual excellence.
  • Melty Blood: Type Lumina
  • Bravely Default II - they finally made a game in the series I could like, and all it took was treating women as people.
  • Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights
  • Sable - a pick based on the trust established in the first thirty minutes or so of the game, which is all I've played so far. It immediately leaves an incredibly strong impression not only through the obviously arresting aesthetics, but through the writing voice showcased; sweet and affectionate without devolving into cloying and twee. A very unusually walked tonal tightrope I'm keen to see more of.
Ports and remasters
Older games played in 2021
 
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Becksworth

Aging Hipster Dragon Dad
Best Game 2021: Metroid Dread
Best Game Not of 2021 I Played in 2021: Soul Calibur VI
Best Indie Games: Three way tie between Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth, Steel Assault, and Eastward
Best "Y'All Totally Overlooked This" Game: NEO: The World Ends With You
Best Cheap Game, Sponsored by Dollar General: Toree 3D and Toree 2
Best Rom Hack of Old Game: Super Mario Bros. Peach's Adventure
 
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lincolnic

can stop, will stop
(he/him)
I didn't play a ton of 2021 games that weren't kaizo Super Mario World romhacks, but I've gotta give it to Death's Door and Deathloop. I'm also going to start Unsighted today, which I suspect may make it to the list by the time I'm done.
 

Patrick

Magic-User
(He/Him)
Best chill game: a tie between Hey! Pikmin and Captain Toad Treasure Tracker

Best action game: Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury

Best RPG: 7th Dragon
 

Balrog

(He/Him)
I feel like I'm way behind everyone else because I'm in no rush to play new stuff but my favorite things this year were Ghost of Tsushima, Kuukiyomi, Kuukiyomi 2, Death Stranding, & the Demon's Souls Remake.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
I'm pretty sure I haven't played a 2021 made game but I played Deep Rock Galactic, Risk of Rain 2 and Stardew Valley for the first time this year and they are top tier fun.
 

MCBanjoMike

Infamous third lava dolphin
(He/him)
I feel like there are at least 6 more 2021 games I have to try before I can take a stab at answering this.
 

Mogri

Round and round I go
(he)
Staff member
Moderator
GOTY: Super Auto Pets. I was sure I'd get tired of this by now, but I haven't. Back-to-back wins are as thrilling as they've ever been, and you can do a full game in a bathroom break.

Romhack of the year: Pokemon Radical Red. Gen 1 world, gen 3 aesthetics, gen 8 mechanics, and the full dex is enough of a draw even before you consider the QOL improvements.

Replay of the year: Final Fantasy Legend 2. I played it for the first time about a decade ago. It held up then, and it holds up now. This is my comfort food.

Honorable mention: Inscryption. As a game, it's pretty good. As an experience, it's incredible.
 

RT-55J

definitely not a robot
(He/Him + RT/artee)
Coziest Search Action: The Witch and the 66 Mushrooms (such a lovely a small world to circumnavigate)

Best Metroid: Super Duper Metroid (extremely respectful of my desire to just go wherever the heck I want, while always providing (me, specifically) a nice balance between the friction of exploration and ease of traversal)

Best Switch Exclusive: Metroid Dread (not a bad game imho)

Best ZZT Game: Kobold Smoocher (while this year's Phoebus Project and Kunger Binb are inarguably the most ambitious and maximalist ZZT games ever completed, Kobold Smoocher proves just how good effective a game based on the classic formula can be when paired with a charming world)
 

4-So

Spicy
GOTY 2021

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart

Favorites of 2021

Returnal
Battlefield 2042
Resident Evil Village
Final Fantasy 3 Pixel Remaster
Final Fantasy 14: Endwalker
 

Bongo

excused from moderation duty
(he/him)
Staff member
I can tell Metroid Dread is some kinda masterpiece, and a shoe-in for "Game of the Year," but I'm going to need to give it more plays before I can fully appreciate it, and I'm giving it time between playthroughs.

The game I played the most was Mass Effect: Legendary Edition. It was something familiar and cozy during the demanding period of House Buy. It overcame Dragon Quest XI and Skies of Arcadia for "Best Replay," as well as Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury and Pokemon Shining Pearl for "Most Shamelessly Enjoyed Remake or Rerelease."

The game that most broadened my horizons as a player was The Longing, which I made a thread about. It's the winner of the "Artsy-Fartsy Ludic Experience of the Year" award.

A Short Hike, Carto, and Deltarune Chapter 2 were three indie games I can't say a bad thing about, and each one can be beaten in a day. I grant them the coveted "More Like This, Please" award.

The coveted "Yes, I'm Still Playing This, Slowly" award goes to Yakuza: Like a Dragon, with honorable mention to The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles.
 
My favorite game that I've played this year is Final Fantasy VII Remake. I'm not all the way through it yet, but I've enjoyed revisiting this game in the remake. The FFVII cast remains my favorite FF cast.

My favorite 2021 game is Ghosts n' Goblins Resurrection. Its a great GnG game. I especially like the upgrade tree which makes the difficult game a little easier. The story book artwork is also fantastic. This game is a gem.

My recommendation for Talking Time members is Valkyria Chronicles 4. If you like strategy games VC4 is worth playing.
 
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Sarge

hardcore retro gamin'
My top games of the year (either released or new-to-me):

9/10 games:

FFVII Remake - Floored by how good this was, despite my not being in love with the original.
Record of Lodoss War - Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth - Maybe not SotN-level complexity, but a darn fine time.
Metroid Dread - Metroid is back, baby. Still wish I had d-pad controls, though.

8.5/10:

Mobile Suit Gundam Wing: Endless Duel - Tremendous fighting game on SNES. Was surprised how good this was.
Panzer Paladin - Has some of that Natsume NES spirit. Love it.
Blasphemous - Much darker than I'm used to, but a very fun, compelling playthrough.
Zelda II: Amida's Curse - One of the best ROM hacks I've had the pleasure of completing. (Not many, but then, most aren't that compelling.)

8/10:

Violinist of Hameln - Really unique game that could have used a password system!
Silent Bomber - Unheralded PSX action game that is far harder than it needed to be at the end, but otherwise excellent.
Monstania - Too short, but a blast while it lasts.
Shaman King: Master of Spirits - Pretty sure this uses the Igavania engine, and while stripped down a bit, still very fun.
Gate of Thunder - Fantastic shmup on PC Engine CD, and I'm not even a big shmup guy.
Immortals: Fenyx Rising - Does some things better than BotW, some worse, but overall worth a play. Would like to try on a less compromised platform than Switch, and I'll eventually do so since it has cross-saves.
 

ArugulaZ

Fearful asymmetry
Gotta say, for all the issues I have with its interminable length and grinding, Yakuza: Like a Dragon is the best game I've played this year. It's got a delightfully earnest and dimwitted protagonist, an involved storyline that's worth your attention, lots to do (maybe too much sometimes), and an ace localization that doesn't hide its Japanese roots, while making the setting approachable to Western players. The heroes matter to you on a personal level, the villains are appropriately despicable, the setting is alternately tacky and filthy, yet fun to explore, and the combat brings new life and urgency to turn-based battles. And it cost me seven dollars! Seven dollars well spent, I say.

Some honorable mentions include:

Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate. Warner Bros. threw great big heaps of money at this one and it shows... the characters emote with natural gestures and expressions that leave the Uncanny Valley so far behind as to be in another state. The guest stars are extremely faithful to their film debuts, even using the same voice actors in most cases. Characters have five different slots, letting you customize their looks and even their move sets to your liking. Best of all, the super meter system has been drastically changed, giving enhanced special moves their own meter so you're free to use them without sacrificing the tide-turning super attacks (now known as Fatal Blows, and operating under the same principles as SNK's desperation moves). Some down sides? Voices for the standard characters aren't as good as they were in MK10, and conditions for finishing the Krypt are utterly ludicrous. No, I'm not performing fifty fatalities on ten different characters to unlock everything! And I'm not performing twenty-five, either!

Black Bird. Arguably better than the game that inspired it, Fantasy Zone. It sure is more fair, anyway. Shots are bright orange and red against a dark, sepia toned sky, so when they come at you, you actually see them. It also does a good job of balancing the creepy with the kooky. Sure you're a neglected child reborn as a crow bent on destroying those who left you to die, buuuut... the soundtrack is an opera that sounds like it came from an episode of The Muppet Show with special guest host Popeye the Sailor Man. No stupid shops interrupt the flow of the game... you power up by collecting gems instead, and once your weapon is improved, you keep that power for the duration of the game. Forget what I said about "arguably" better... mechanically, this game IS better than Fantasy Zone, and the Victorian setting helps it stand apart from its spiritual ancestor.

Castlevania Advance Collection. I'm a big Game Boy Advance fan, and this collection does the three Castlevania games for that system justice. Heck, Circle of the Moon is better than it was twenty years ago, because you're not going in blind when grinding for DSS cards. As for Harmony of Dissonance, there's not much that can be done with that short of a complete overhaul.

Mini Ninjas. Not a fantastic action game, but a remarkably gentle and calming one, with just enough technique and hidden goodies to keep it entertaining from start to finish. I couldn't believe this title got added to backward compatibility, but I'm nevertheless grateful it was... it runs like dirt on Steam unless you're willing to deep dive for long-orphaned patches.
 

spines

behold my godlike
(she/her, or something)
i played and finished a lot of really good games this year! and a few not as good ones that i also loved. and also didn't finish a few but definitely knew that they were great

i guess my first and foremost pick would be sin and punishment; demi modded up her old n64 with new rgb outputs this year and played the game for a while, so i saw some of it and wasn't entirely sure what to make of it. but once i decided to play it for myself a few months later i was completely sold immediately. it's a phenomenal distillation of one end of that treasure magic, taking very simple-seeming controls and throwing them into fast action with a ton of nuance and mastery to see. the mashup of rail shooter action with some more run-and-gun type elements just works so well, and the sound design and music still rule too, and while it's not quite on the level of vagrant story i find the game's angular designs very beautifully rendered and textured.

mischief makers was great too. while it doesn't use that many more buttons it definitely has that very opposite, "chaotic" feeling; most levels are based on some core concept or theme, and sometimes that means they literally only take fifteen seconds. then it's onto something else and you'll never see that thing happen again. to me, that's a sense it shares with radiant silvergun and a lot of gunstar heroes, and the former in particular is still one of my favorite treasure games, while the other is still great. and it honestly looks and sounds incredibly bizarre. i remember being bewildered the first time i saw it so many years ago, but now that i've played it, that's just how it is, and i love it for that. it really would feel so different if it didn't have so many freaky faces everywhere.

bombastic is the sequel to one of my favorite puzzle games ever, and i'd never heard much about it, leaving my expectations low, but it's an extremely fun entry in the series in its "endless" mode and features all of the previous games' rulesets there as well, as well as having a much improved and expanded single player mode. might have the best soundtrack in the series as well.

demon king chronicle is a wild game. apparently this is an rpg maker game from 2007, but it has these mechanics i'm a little shocked to see in a game that old, like "pulling" in the mmo sense, angular AOE attacks, and an anarchic equipment system where everything, including weapons, armor, and consumables, are equippable as accessories with their own stats and sometimes abilities. it reminded me of dept. heaven as soon as turtle started talking about it in discord once, but really it's even more mysterious and bizarre than most of that series. i absolutely love it.

speaking of games that were ahead of their time? everblue 2. i feel like a modern game with this concept could really wow everyone now that there's a wider view of what games are and the tech is there to make something truly stunning visually, plus the photo mechanic, which is a bit clumsy in this game (partly because of how much space it takes on ps2 memory cards...) has become a central feature in so many recent games. it's not entirely great, with a very silly storyline and some other very bizarre mechanical contrivances, but there's such a cool variety of chill exploration vibes and intense horror sense in the diving mechanics, plus a pretty cleverly designed progression system that doesn't feel too unfair or restricting overall, but still offers a lot to look forward to.

i beat moon: remix rpg adventure back in march. i made a couple posts about this in the thread but they never really summed up my feelings or experience with the game, which is a beautifully trippy adventure with some issues but also a lot of stuff that feels far ahead of its mid-90s vintage. the soundtrack and overall aesthetic have a wild dream sense and i felt the game ultimately hit a nice balance between its parodical metanarrative and underlying sincerity. and it caused me to want to play super mario rpg having heard that many of the staff came from that game, which, while i'm only about halfway through, is fucking incredible. i don't even consider myself a particularly big mario fan, but the amount of love that went into selling this quirky world full of surreal gags and mario as a main character is simply fantastic. i don't know if i'll ever find him more appealing than in this game, and he never even says anything! he just jumps and mimes stuff. overall it's easily one of my favorite 16-bit square games already.

i also finally beat tales of vesperia this year, on the switch version. it really does feel like the "ultimate" tales game, for better or worse: it's longer, more technical and difficult, and grindier (though not even really "because of difficulty", just that the ff9-style skill system means there are SO MANY weapons to make and learn skills for your builds from) than any other entry in the series i've played. but i ate it up. it's kind of a weird story, focused on the clash of leading characters' philosophies and motivations with honestly a lot of the twists and other conflicts feeling like afterthoughts, and i loved the characters way more than enough for me to be totally sold on it. it's also the one game in the series that truly "feels like a fighting game" to me, with enemies having all sorts of really cheap shenanigans and super long combos being doable but frequently difficult and often having some degree of risk. i spent 160 hours with it from december-march and i still feel like i could play it for so much longer.

i'm not sure i love it more than phantasia still, but it's far ahead of any of the others to me.

dungeon encounters is the best rpg i've ever played where i straight up turned off the sound before the end of the game. it starts out as a fine but weirdly straightforward-feeling dungeon crawler, but eventually you are given the choice to turn it into another game entirely. in my case the tipping point looked like something intentional but as far as i can tell was actually a COMPLETELY RANDOM occurrence that just happened to look designed and perfectly set me up for exactly the kind of game i wanted to play. which means maybe they did realize it because the map was set up in a way to enable it perfectly? i don't even know!!! what a wild game

i already wrote a bunch about monster hunter freedom unite/portable 2nd g, but i played a while after writing that and finished my big G1 equipment grind before taking a break since then. of course it's not as good as rise, but i found it way more compelling in a way, because i love old pain games. it also explained a LOT about what jrpgs were doing in the late ps2 and early 360 era to me

(sunbreak is gonna be rad though, i'm still super looking forward to it)

very tiny mentions: fate: grand order: yuga kshetra is the only game story i read this year that caused me to read four different books after finishing it. this should not actually be taken as an endorsement. final fantasy xiv: the zodiark age was also a bit of a mixed bag, but pretty damn good overall. capcom vs snk 2 is a fighting game that i still think is Way Too Much, but its chaotic and unstoppably 2000-2001 aesthetic is too appealing not to love

final fantasy xv has a ton of problems but remains the only game i've played that represents what it's like to be a teenage boy camping in the southwestern us mountains and desert. i'll keep saying it until something better comes along

games that i keep saying i hate, but i really don't, they just clearly were designed to annoy me specifically and i really struggle to actually play them: touhou 18: unconnected marketeers, final fantasy ix
 
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FelixSH

(He/Him)
I spent a lot of time with Final Fantasy games, which I all had played already, so that reduced my time with new games. And of the ones I played, there wasn't anything that really felt as intense as, say, Life is Strange or Hatoful Boyfriend felt, back a few years.

If I hadn't encountered a horrible bug with Get in the Car, Loser!, that one would have been my definite GOTY. I loved what I played, up to that point, but the bug made it unplayable. But damn, the writing and the characters were amazing, as always with Christine Love games, and the RPG mechanics were fun enough. The atmosphere was so, so beautiful, and it was already starting to break my heart. Sigh, I need to try again, maybe the bug was ironed out, by now.

Second favourite would probably be Life is Strange 2. I really enjoyed my time with this game, and it had some very strong moments. Not as amazing as the first game was, but that is an absurdly high bar, for me. It did have some moments, that really got to me. And I enjoyed my time with the brothers a lot. The main thing that makes me realize, that it didn't leave the impression I assumed, is that I didn't even think of it, for some time. And by now, the impressions already feel way weaker than they did in October, when I played it.

Also, Spyro 3, from the collection on Steam, is a very fun game. Not a game that set my world on fire, just a colorful game about collecting a ton of shiny things, with low difficulty and levels that were enjoyable to explore. Simple fun.

Elsewise, I played a few games that were fun, but nothing to call a game of the year.
 

MetManMas

Me and My Bestie
(He, him)
I'm just gonna put this into a few categories with a few entries apiece.

Most Liked 2021 Switch Games I Played: New Pokémon Snap, Ghosts 'N Goblins Resurrection, Pokémon Unite, Fatum Betula

Games Not From 2021 I Liked: Pokémon Shield, deltarune (albeit its 2nd chapter did hit this year), A Short Hike, SaGa Scarlet Grace: AMBITIONS, A Robot Named Fight!

Ports/Remasters of Much Older Games I Liked, aka My Switch is Gradually Becoming a PSone: SaGa Frontier Remastered, Monster Rancher 1 & 2 DX, Legend of Mana, Star Ocean First Departure R, Doom 64, Mr. Driller DrillLand, Ghouls 'N Ghosts, Chiki Chiki Boys, Legacy of the Wizard, The Genji and the Heike Clans

Haven't Put As Much Time As I'd Like To Yet But I Do Like It: Trials of Mana, Sid Meier's Civilization VI, Romancing SaGa 3

It Keeps Dragging Me Back Even Though I Never Left: Animal Crossing New Horizons' big 2.0 update and its accompanying Happy Home Paradise DLC

Three 2021 Games I Most Wanna Get But Haven't Just Yet: Chicory, Eastward, Beyond a Steel Sky
 
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