2021 has finally come to a close. I covered the 10 WORST games of the year in a post earlier this week and now it is time to do the exact opposite of that and go through my top 10 BEST games of the year. I played over 320 games this year and managed to limit it down to just 10 and some honorable mentions for this list, so let’s go ahead and get started.
Honorable Mention 1: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 4
Although not quite as good as its predecessors, Cold Steel 4 is still a solid entry in the series and a great way to wrap up the arc (at least, until Reverie comes and changes everything). Fun combat, interesting characters, tons of stuff to explore and discover – this is a massive JRPG with a similarly massive story behind it and it’s an absolute ride for those that have played the games leading up to it. It may not be completely free of issues, but I had a great time with it and if anything, it just leaves me more excited to see where the story goes in the next one.
Honorable Mention 2: Persona 5 Strikers
For being such a massive change of pace for the series, Persona 5 Strikers does a surprisingly good job. You still get that interesting story with all the usual twists and turns, but with some solid Musou-style real-time combat – combat that actually has more depth than the usual Musou game. And of course, this is on top of the game’s top-tier visual presentation and music, just as it was in the original Persona 5. An excellent followup all things considered and definitely worth a look if you liked the original.
Honorable Mention 3: Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy
I just can’t help but like Atelier games. Even if Ryza 2’s story may have taken a massive dive compared to the first game, the improvements they made to the gameplay and crafting really elevated this one. The combat, for example, now has a cool core charge and item mechanic, improving the overall pacing and removing one of my major complaints from the first game. But really, it’s just the visuals, music, and laid-back feel that keep me coming back to this series in spite of its flaws and I’m looking forward to what they do with Sophie 2 in just a couple months.
10. Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin
I feel like Monster Hunter Rise coming out this year kinda overshadowed this one, despite Stories 2 being a solid JRPG by itself even if you completely remove the Monster Hunter name. Not having played the first one, I went in not really knowing what to expect and quickly found myself having a blast with the combat, breeding, the mountain of customization options, and yeah, the visuals and music were pretty cool too. It’s got a nice amount of depth to it and is a nice change of pace from the recent Pokémon games that seem to be going a more simplistic route.
It’s not often we get unique visual novels like MUSICUS!. Here we have a story that doesn’t spend most of its time in a school setting and instead follows a young man on his path to adulthood through his love of music. It’s got a bit of everything – romance, comedy, drama, and even philosophy – and all wrapped up in some great character writing, excellent pacing, and plot developments that actually make sense. Again, it’s rare we get such a well-rounded VN and I am really surprised this one seems to have flown under the radar for so many this year.
8. Days Gone
I may have a PlayStation 5, but I am all for Sony bringing more of its games to PC and Days Gone is a prime example as to why. Not only is the game itself a lot of fun – and with a good story too – but it is one of best PC ports of the year. I powered through this one at 1440p, 100+ fps with little in the way of bugs, stutters, or technical issues of any kind – and this was all on my aging 1070 Ti at the time. I had a blast with it and one can only hope that this is the same quality we’ll find in the upcoming God of War PC port.
7. Ys IX: Monstrum Nox
The latest Ys game making my list isn’t really all that surprising given that Ys VIII was my game of the year back in 2018. Ys IX may not have entirely matched that quality, but that definitely doesn’t make it a bad game – far from it. It’s got that fast and fun real-time combat with focus on skill combos, good character writing forming an enjoyable overall story, and some vastly improved movement mechanics that make exploration that much better. Well worth a play not just for Ys fans, but JRPG fans in general.
6. Lost Judgment
I had a lot of fun playing through the upgraded PS5 version of Judgment earlier this year and again just this past month playing through its sequel. It fixes some of the problems from the original while offering up other nice improvements across the board, with more refined real-time combat and a story that is just as gripping, if not more a bit more so than the first game. It is never not fun to go from beating up a bunch of high school bullies to then solving this massive conspiracy and duking it out in the courtroom – and that is exactly what this game offers.
5. Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania
I love Monkey Ball. I played it a lot as a kid, so you bet I was excited for a full-on remake of those games. Banana Mania not only delivers on that aspect, but adds a mountain of bonus content on top of it – forming a package with hundreds of levels, tons of new game modes, and some really nice quality of life features that make the games that much more playable. It is the best that Monkey Ball has been in over a decade and is well worth a play for both fans and newcomers alike.
4. The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles
The best visual novel release of 2021 – fitting for the series that also got me into the genre. The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles takes all that makes the series great, throws it into a cool new setting, and delivers a mystery visual novel experience quite unlike any other. Solid writing, expertly done story-comedy balance, and gameplay elements that actually work – it’s an absolute ride all the way through and a testament to what makes this genre great. Even if you’re not a VN or Ace Attorney fan, it’s well worth a look if you have even the slightest interest in it.
3. Guilty Gear Strive
I have spent way too many hours in this game. Burning through the arcade mode with all characters, climbing the ranks online, or just duking it out with a friend in multiplayer – for a fighting game, it’s got all the basics on lock and then some. They not only set the bar for 2D fighters with the top-notch visuals, but really streamlined the overall experience while still keeping it mechanically complex. It looks great, has a ton to explore and learn, and – most of all – is just fun to play. Easily the best fighting game to come out in a while and 100% one I will continue to play into next year.
So this is a bit of a tricky one, because it is REALLY hard to talk about Inscryption without spoiling what makes it great. On the surface, it looks like another deckbuilding card battler – which yes, it does do a pretty good job at – but it is so much more than just that. There are numerous hidden layers to this game underneath that seemingly simple surface and of all the games in this list – it is easily the most unique of the bunch, combining its dark and creepy aesthetic with this surprisingly complex card game. And this is all wrapped up in a story that goes places – again, places I can’t really talk about here without spoiling anything. It’s a close contender for my game of the year and is 100% one I would recommend going into as blind as possible.
1. Nioh 2 – The Complete Edition
Simply put, Nioh 2 is one of the best action RPGs I have ever played – and this is coming from someone that was initially intimidated by its difficulty. Yes, it is a difficult game, but it’s one of those rare Souls-like titles where I am having so much fun playing it that I hardly notice. Incredibly satisfying combat, tons of depth and customization, a nice sense of challenge, and an overall aesthetic that really elevates the whole thing – especially if you’re a fan of Japanese history and folklore like myself. It may have taken me 40 hours to clear the main story, but it’s one of those games where you can just keep on going – there is so much stuff to do, items to uncover, extra bosses to take down – I could go on. For being a bit iffy about it going in, I was more than surprised with how much I enjoyed Nioh 2.
And yup, that’s all I got for this list. I imagine it’s going to be unlike a lot of other such lists that you may end up watching/reading and some may disagree with it, but that’s what makes these kinds of lists fun. Anyways, thanks for reading – see you all next year.