Skip to content
Dec 14 / Great Apes

Games of 2021

2021 felt like a pretty slow year for video game releases. I suspect there are a bunch of reasons for this, among them: the ongoing Covid pandemic slowing down work, the shift to a new console generation with the release of a new Playstation and Xbox, and the increasing shift from the big publishers towards Live Service (TM) games full of microtransactions rather than complete experiences that you buy once and play through. But it also felt like a slow year for indie releases, or at least ones that I came across.

I probably spent more time this year playing older games. I played the entire Yakuza 3/4/5 trilogy this year, went back and replayed Final Fantasy 7 yet again (it’s still an amazing game), and so forth. I won’t complain about that, as it can be nice to have some space to play older things again. But it does mean that as far as current games go it felt like that was a smaller emphasis for me this year.

Nevertheless, I did play enough new games that I enjoyed to write up a list of my favourites. Rather than ranking them numerically this year I’ve decided to split them into tiers, which I noticed was happening naturally as I put this list together. Within each tier I’ve sorted the games alphabetically. But enough preamble, here are some games that are good.

As an aside: the two top games on this list both came out on the same day, which is a funny coincidence.


Neo: The World Ends With You

This is an RPG that absolutely drips with style. Every aspect of the game works together to create a cohesive experience. The soundtrack is incredible and the game has the best real-time combat system in any party-based RPG I’ve played. I really hope other games steal the control scheme, it does a great job of letting you control all four party members at the same time without needing any menus or pausing. My only real complaint is that it’s just too long, and in particular the final act really drags out, with something like 3 false endings.

I really need to reiterate how amazing the soundtrack is.

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles

I’ve been playing the Ace Attorney games for years and I think this game (actually a collection of two games that were previously only available in Japan) is the best in the series. While there are certainly still long sections of the game that are largely a visual novel, it feels like this is the most interactive and “game-y” of the Ace Attorney games. It also has the most interesting mysteries in the series, for my money. My only objection, again, is that it’s too long, and in particular the final case in the second game in this collection really drags out the final trial much longer than is necessary.


Hitman 3

I’ve been a big fan of the revival of the Hitman games, but I have to say of the three most recent ones this is the weakest of the bunch. This mostly comes down to the level design, which I think is more uneven than in the other games. A few of the levels in this one are as good as ever, but some of the others fall a bit flat for me. It’s still a very fun game with the same intricate interlocking systems as other Hitmans, but I haven’t found myself returning to it to replay the levels over and over again like I did with the previous two. If you’re new to this series I’d definitely recommend Hitman 2 as the starting point.

Psychonauts 2

Easily the funniest game I played this year, I enjoyed Psychonauts 2 a lot. My only real complaint is that the levels felt less creative than in the first Psychonauts. The first game had non-linear levels with unique premises, butthe levels in Psychonauts 2 are for the most part linear platformers. I did enjoy the hub world (which is actually several fairly large, open levels) quite a bit, and spent a lot of time in it scouring for secrets. That said, it controls a lot better than the original, and feels much better to play. The first one, for all its zany creativity, was kind of janky, and Psychonauts 2 feels far more polished.


Wildermyth is a sort-of procedurally generated tactics RPG with comic book-style storytelling. The combat is pretty simple but well executed and I never grew tired of it even though it lacks the complexity of something like XCom or Final Fantasy Tactics. I also liked its approach to story-telling, with characters that age and evolve over the course of each procedural story. This is the closest to playing a tabletop RPG I’ve felt in a video game. There’s also a light strategy layer on the world map that ties things all together. Highly recommend this one if you’re into RPGs at all, even if you don’t normally play tactics games.


Alba: A Wildlife Adventure

A game about a little girl who photographs the local wildlife and tries to save a nature preserve while on a family vacation. Very cute game, and I had fun for the three hours or so it takes to play through.

Monster Hunter Stories 2

I was curious about how Monster Hunter would work as a turn-based game, but I think they captured the general feeling of the MH games quite well, combined with a more detailed story than a regular MH would have. I must complain, again, that it’s simply too long, as the later parts of the game feel like they’re recycling content to drag out the running time.

New Pokemon Snap

It’s kind of like a roller coaster ride where you take pictures of Pokemon. It’s a little bit of a puzzle game too, as you try to figure out how to coax Pokemon into the best poses to fill up your photography book. Nothing too complicated here, but a fun game to chill out with, and it’s got a lot more content than I was expecting going in (How Long To Beat estimates that it’s about four times as big as the first Pokemon Snap.)

Persona 5 Strikers

While this is a real-time action RPG in the Dynasty Warriors engine, I thought it did a great job of capturing the general feeling of Persona 5. It’s a considerably pared down experience compared to Persona 5, with no calendar or relationships to manage, but the feeling of going into the palaces with a group of your friends is intact, and it has the same great sense of style as the original. It also feels fairly distinct from the Dynasty Warriors games, with smaller groups of enemies to fight and a bigger focus on magic and special abilities. But look, this is yet another long game that has a false ending leading to an even longer game, and I’ve really got to ask developers to stop with the false endings.

Tales of Arise

I enjoyed Tales of Arise, but not as much as the critical consensus. I wouldn’t say there’s much that’s special about it, but it’s a kind of comfort food for people who like games about travelling around the world hitting monsters with swords, and I am one of those people.


Death’s Door

This game was made by quite a small team, and it definitely feels like a small team trying to be ambitious and over-reaching a bit. The combat is generally pretty fun but feels like it lacks weight or impact, and the environments are very repetitive (surely a limitation due to the size of the team and the budget). I’ve seen comparisons to Zelda and the Soulsbourne games, but I’m not sure either one really fits. It doesn’t really have the structure of a Zelda game, nor the difficulty and world-building of a Soulsborne game. I’d say a better description is that it’s a (mostly) linear character action game. I’d really like to see a sequel to Death’s Door, I think there’s a solid foundation to build on.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits

I am of two minds about Kena: Bridge of Spirits. It’s a gorgeous-looking game, as you can easily tell from screenshots or trailers. Exploring its lush cartoon-y environments is fun. But it seems like the developers couldn’t decide if they wanted to make a family-friendly platformer or a punishing Soulsbourne action game, and it never really comes together because of it. Sometimes Kena can be punishingly difficult in a way that you absolutely would not expect based on its general look and the way the marketing has focused on its cute characters and colourful world. I’d have enjoyed it more with the combat stripped down or even taken out entirely.

The Forgotten City

The Forgotten City started out as a Skyrim mod before eventually being remade as a stand-alone game. In it you play as a person who gets warped back in time from the modern day to ancient Rome and then stuck in a time loop mystery. I found the mystery fun and the world building was generally pretty good, but (and this is very much a me thing), I always burn out on time loop games because no matter how much variety the developers add, or shortcuts to prevent the player from having to start from scratch on every loop, it starts to feel repetitive to me after a while. This one is definitely worth checking out if you’re into narrative in games, though, I think it’s mostly well-written and does some interesting things.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.