Content of the article: "My 2020 year in review"
I'll be listing all of the games that I finished in 2020 and attaching little mini reviews with them. I also won't be including Yakuza 7, partly because it's a bit too new for that (unless you count the Japanese release) and partly because, even though I technically beat it, I want to milk every drop of content that I can out of it. Without further ado, here we go!
God of War (2005): Actually picked this one up at Goodwill and had a great time with it. Thought the story was great, with how it took the traditional greek tragedy to such gruesome extremes, and I thought that the journals of the architect that you find while working your way through Pandora's Temple were pretty cool, with how they paralleled Kratos's journey. On top of that, the combat was excellent (better than the new one) and surprisingly difficult even on the normal difficulty setting (Hero?). The spiked tower in Hades was pretty lame and the final boss was a bit weak, but all in all a really great experience, and an easy 4/5.
Judgment/Judge Eyes: Wedged this one in before the release of the Yakuza Remastered Collection, and had a great time with it. Yakuza/RGG is my favorite series, and I really enjoyed this more subdued spinoff. Yagami's a great character, and the bros brought some really great chemistry to the mix. Combat was fun, and the story and central mystery was excellent. Really phenomenal across the board, with the exception of one category that's crucial to any RGG game: the side content. Honestly, the side content offering here was pretty weak. There were a few side cases that I enjoyed, and I discovered Motor Raid and Virtua Fighter 5, which are now some of my favorite arcade games, but the endless friendships, low income, and grinding for skills was… not very fun. But there was so much great here that the game still evens out to a great 4/5.
Yakuza 3: I technically played Remastered on the day of release, but the game itself came out all the way back in 2009 and I could've easily picked up a PS3 copy or splurged on the digital release when it came out, so I think this counts. Anyway, great game. The vacation vibes are fun, the soundtrack slaps (Clay Doll on the Cradle and Fly are some of my favorite video game tracks, period), and the combat is tight and thrilling… at least once you do Komaki's training. Up until then, pretty much every fight is a slog. But honestly, I didn't care. This game was too fun for that to weigh it down. The orphanage and Rikiya made me feel a lot of things, and it was good to see Kiryu express some serious emotion. And beyond that, the finale is just… wow. Absolutely fucking batshit insane, but that's a huge factor in why it's my favorite video game finale. Oh, and my favorite game in my favorite series, earning it an easy 5/5. But if Yakuza 3 is my favorite game in my favorite series, does that not mean that it's my favorite game? Well, we'll get to that later.
Yakuza 4: Had a pretty great time with this one, because, y'know, it's Yakuza. But I'm gonna just get it out of the way and say that this is my least favorite in the series. The worst in a great series of games still tends to be a great game, and this is, but it's got some pretty glaring faults, such as: Akiyama's story seems to establish a big conspiracy, but the only thing that really matters from it is that Lily is a character that exists. Saejima's an awesome character, but he's not fun to play as, and his story is largely inconsequential with the exception of one major beat. Tanimura's an awesome character who's development is all shunted aside into his substories because his section of the game has to do all of the legwork in establishing the actual plot. Kiryu's story is essentially just catching up to the other characters and tying up loose ends. The actually great and really interesting conspiracy that was established from the beginning of the game gets thrown out for the sake of the lamest antagonist in the franchise. The finale is hyped to an insane degree and then thoroughly underwhelms. Now, don't get me wrong: I love Yakuza 4. It's a fun game, the soundtrack's great, the new characters are awesome, and I actually don't have any qualms with a certain beat that most people hate. But it reeks of squandered potential. Regardless, as I already said, it's a great game and one easily deserving of a 4/5. Just one that isn't as great as it could or even should be.
Yakuza 5: Now this is the good shit. I think that, from an objective perspective, it's easily better than 3, though my personal biases and love of movies like Die Hard and Face/Off leave me favoring that one. This right here is a Yakuza 0/Yakuza 7 tier game. Anyway, let's get into it. The combat is the series' best by far. Shinada's style could use some ironing out and Akiyama's new moves actually made him slightly more cumbersome than in 4, but Kiryu and Saejima feel like gods in your hands, and it just feels great to play. The character work is also excellent, and I really liked the central theme of dreams. And man, the scale of the plot and the amount of content is just wowie. So much here, and I love every bit of it. Easy 5/5 game.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life: I ended up enjoying this game a lot more than I thought I would, as I see people tearing into it a lot. The combat and general Dragon Engine-isms are… rough. The side content is lacking, and the new exp system feels needlessly grindy. There are a lot of problems here. But it has soul like few other games do. The best story beats left me feeling a lot of things, and those were only bolstered by the beautiful OST, which is, in my personal (and correct) opinion, the best in the series. A flawed, but beautiful end to a beautiful series. …until Yakuza 7. 4/5.
Metroid: Zero Mission: I had started Super Metroid twice in the past, taken too long a break between sessions, and gotten lost both times. So this time, I decided to give Zero Mission a shot, and wow is this game good. The movement and exploration was so satisfying that I ended up going all the way for 100%, and had a great time every step of the way. A more bite-sized Metroid experience really helped ease me into the series, and I shot through it in something like seven hours. A phenomenal 5/5, and now one of my favorite games.
Super Metroid: Logically, after loving Zero Mission as much as I did, I had to tackle the king of kings once more. And I loved it! The atmosphere and level design was absolutely gripping. However, the controls are a considerable step down from Zero Mission (or rather, Zero Mission's controls are a step up), and the lack of some QoL features kept me from getting 100% this time. I still got something like 95%, so I was no slouch! Anyway, phenomenal game. I didn't enjoy it quite as much as Zero Mission, so it gets a comfortable 4/5.
Final Fantasy VII: I started this game up all the way back in 2019, but with the impending release of FFVII Remake, I knew that I had to push through it in time. And I had a great time with it! The story was gripping, the characters were fun, and the Materia system is my favorite magic system ever, bar none. However, I think that the pacing suffers a lot from inconsistency and the need to wedge the game full of pointless minigames, the world design was generally cumbersome and uninteresting to explore, and some more cryptic and old-fashioned design tendencies hurt the experience. Still, the great far outshines the mediocrity, so this is an easy 4/5. P.S. – Yuffie and Cait Sith get too much hate.
Final Fantasy VII Remake: This and the next entry might be cheating as far as sub rules go because I played them both at release, but they're both over six months old now, so ehh? Anyway, I actually wrapped up FFVII just days before Remake released, and then burned through Remake over the course of three days, sleeping only once, but WOW I love this game. This might be heresy, but so far, I actually like it more than OG FFVII. Now, whether that remains true or not is contingent on how the next parts go, but oh my, I had a great time with this one. People say that the game feels bloated, but I can't disagree more. Remake feels like it gives Midgar what it deserves. The world design and character development were hitting me with feels for a game that I had wrapped up playing only days before, and it was incredible. I cried a couple of times. Anyway, soundtrack was best of the year, combat was some of the best ever, and I'm really intrigued by the pseudo-sequel approach and am looking forward to seeing where it goes next. 4/5.
Resident Evil 3 (2020): I had a good time with this one, but it's nowhere near the heights of Resident Evil 2 (2019). Nemesis was underused and wasn't as fun to deal with as Mr. X, the enemies were less fun to deal with despite there technically being more this time, the heavier action focus made it less memorable, and it was entirely too short. I know I sound like I'm being hard on it, but I really did enjoy it. However, this game deserved to be better than what it ended up being, and I probably wouldn't have enjoyed it as much if it hadn't come out right around the beginning of the lockdowns when I was in desperate need of a good game to take my mind off of things. So, it's a pretty good 3/5.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time: Very mixed feelings on this one. On the one hand, the cinematic platforming was a ton of fun and I get why this game was such a big deal, but on the other… It really was a slog at some points, mainly due to the combat. God, the combat. Just fucking awful. Context-sensitive inputs were obnoxiously inconsistent, enemy design was mind-numbingly boring, and the constant waves after waves of enemies were painful to push through. It honestly felt lazy. Its saving grace is that it's super short. I actually cleared it in a single sitting. I can't say that I had a bad time with it, because it really was fun when I was doing anything other than combat, but I can't in good conscience give it more than a 3/5. I've heard that the sequels really bring up the quality of the combat, so I'm looking forward to burning through them sometime in the (hopefully) near future.
Final Fantasy IX: Holy god damn shit oh my lord there is just. So much here. This is my favorite game ever. I discovered my all time favorite game this year, and I don't think it's possible for anything to ever usurp it. Just absolutely astonishing ever step of the way. The characters, the world, the music… I felt so many things playing FFIX. I cried… so many times. Anyway, I really liked the more traditional party dynamic and how it was shaken up by story beats, and I thought that the equipment/skill system was one of the more fun JRPG leveling and customization systems I've had the pleasure of experiencing. But yeah, this is now my favorite game, so I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I gave it anything less than a perfect score of 5/5.
Anyway, I probably left a few things out here, what with covid giving me a lot more time to game. But this has been a pretty good year as far as gaming goes. I also played a lot of Ōkami but haven't yet finished it, have literally about ten hours left in Persona 5 Royal (Royal ending), started up GTA: Vice City and Metroid Prime right before the year ended, played about an hour of Luigi's Mansion, blasted through Yakuza 7, which may have edged out 3 as my favorite (I need to run through all of the jobs and mess with the post game before I decide for sure)… It's been a good, dense year, and hopefully 2021's no slouch either.
What've you guys been playing this year, and what're your thoughts on my lineup? Here's hoping for a great 2021!
- Yakuza Series – A review halfway through the series
- Yakuza Kiwami feels like going home, where everything and nothing has changed.
- My 2020 completed games and mini reviews
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