If you told me that 2020 was a good year for you, there’s a 100% chance that, I’m sorry to say, you’re full of shit.
2020 has been a banner bad year from many, an off year for the rest.
Within this miserable pile of garbage year, a number of notable games were released, many of whom felt like the escape from the madness happening around the world. Although it felt like there were much fewer impactful releases compared to the last several years, the few that were released – moreover – the ones that made this list, were of an exceptional quality. From new installments to what has now transformed from a niche favorite into a multi-million selling phenomenon, to the remake of a game that has had fans begging for one, to a game that was in early access for over a year and even still felt like a finished and epic release, right on through to a franchise that took its battle system a whole new direction, 2020 saw quite a diversity in its standout releases.
I haven’t done a yearly round up in a while now. Hell, I haven’t even written anything here in just as long. Life decided to take me for a ride, and then abandon me in a ditch somewhere (and then all over again during the last six months), so it’s been a slow crawl back to form. 2020, as a whole, was enough of a journey to hell and back for me, but planted the seeds of a return, that fully blossomed to what we have here today (and hopefully doesn’t wither away again).
So sit back, relax, and see which games stood out to me as The Three Best Video Games of 2020!
Animal Crossing: New Horizons (NS)
Having not played an Animal Crossing game since the Wii, New Horizons came at a very crucial time for myself. Having been laid off at the start of the year, along with the world going into a plagued hell, it put me in a pretty raw and fragile position. Normalcy seemed like a thing of yesteryear, replaced by uncertainty, anxiety and fear. As soon as Animal Crossing: New Horizons was released, it literally transported me to a whole new world, one where fear and uncertainty didn’t exist, where the only hardships that I had to endure was trying to raise enough funds to repay Tom Nook for that basement I added to my home.
I’ve never been big on using things as a form of escapism; I go out for walks with my music blasting to find a place for myself sure, and I become engrossed into a video game to give myself a new place to call home, but not to escape from the world around me. Due to the way this year was unfolding though, I did look towards using something to escape the awful state of the world around me, and Nintendo presented just that, in the most opportune time. New Horizons gave me my own island to call home. Villagers that moved in were all positivity beacons – a stark contrast to those around me during these times (not all their faults however). I could spend hours landscaping my island, shaping it further into a utopian paradise. I’d find plans in a bottle laying on the beach, that enabled me to learn how to make new furniture. I spent hours fishing, just because.
New Horizons gave me a myriad of ways to forget about the cold, dying, despicable world that 2020 had turned reality into, and gave me a safe space where I can enjoy myself, without worry, without anxiety.
For a time, I had felt this was the best game of the year, because there were so many personal attachments, and its wholesome offerings and energy, were exactly the things I needed to carry me through some very uncertain times. As the year progressed, more games were released that I felt were better gaming experiences.
No matter what ended up as number one on this list though, Animal Crossing: New Horizons holds an incredibly special place in my heart, not just for being one of the best games I’ve played this year, but for being something that arrived at one of the most critical times in my life, and holding a meaning to me that very, very few games hold. I’ve neglected my island for a while now however, and I think it’s as good a time as any to say hello to my neighbors, catch up with them and with our island, and keep this special place alive and well for the foreseeable future.
3. Hades (PC)
In 2019, Hades entered Early Access on the Epic Games Store. From that very first build provided, Supergiant Games managed to do something that no one else has been able to – release a game into Early Access that had already felt like a fully fleshed out and complete game so early into its EA period. In fact, it felt more complete at that stage than most AAA big budget titles officially released over the last five years.
I’m a sucker for a good rogue game. Whether it’s a roguelike or a roguelite, I’ve managed to lose way more hours in them than I’d like to admit. Hades scratches that itch for me, but it gives something to the game that the genre scarcely ever has – a proper and fascinating storyline. I don’t mean a means to an end – I mean you have a clear purpose for what you are doing, with a cast of characters all around you to supplement each and every attempt of an escape that you make. It’s genuinely intriguing storytelling, and it pairs off immaculately with the gameplay, which is far and away the single best gameplay I have encountered in a roguelite.
A half dozen different weapons to use, allowing for a half dozen distinct and diverse ways of playing each run, a plethora of gods and boons they provide to help aid your runs further, not to mention other modifiers to aid in, as well as diversify your runs further. Combined with tight, responsive and gripping gameplay, Hades is literally the end-all-be-all of roguelites as far as I am concerned. It’s difficult for even the most seasoned veterans of the genre, but also one of the more welcoming games as well. It’s visually striking, with slick animation, gorgeous visuals, and each area in each portion of the game teeming with vibrant, beautiful art.
With its official 1.0 release, Hades is now considered “complete”, and IMO, can be considered one of the best games to have come out over the last several years, and far and away the best roguelite ever. $25 is an absolute steal for Hades, and will guarantee dozens of hours of exciting, hyped gaming that very few video games manage to deliver.
2. Final Fantasy VII Remake (PS4)
I hate Final Fantasy VII. I’ve hated it for over two decades. The gameplay was stellar, there’s no denying that, but the storyline and its cookie-cutter, and the trope-filled cast of characters were ghastly. I couldn’t ever get behind the emo Cloud. I didn’t bat an eyelash at Aries’ death (it’s Aries, just like Princess Peach is really Princess Toadstool, GTFOH with anything else). None of these protagonists were likable in the least. It was an RPG that was so “fondly remembered” because this was basically the first RPG many had played (ironic enough, my first RPG was the first Final Fantasy on the NES, and I have absolutely zero sentimental attachment to it). It was a strong gameplay system tied to a flimsy, borderline offensive storyline and poor character development.
Final Fantasy VII Remake however, we’re finally given an opportunity to properly become accustomed to these characters, and the storyline attached to it. With this first part taking place up to the escape from Midgar, Square Enix is afforded ample time to flesh these characters out considerably more than the initial release. In doing so, in combination with the real time nature of the gameplay, FFVII Remake feels like a whole new experience.
If there ever was a blueprint to creating a remake of a “fondly remembered” and “loved” video game, this is it. While I still prefer the ATB system in the originals gameplay slightly more, Remake‘s real time combat is still absolutely thrilling, and it accentuates all the changes around it. Cloud finally doesn’t come off as some emo, showing more to who he is and what he’s gone through a lot sooner. Side characters have more life and heart to them. The game world, while it really was enjoyable in the original, feels even more impactful and full of life here. The story pacing, character development, everything feels like how it should have been in the first place.
Square Enix managed to do something that I thought would be impossible – make Final Fantasy VII an endearing and beloved game to me. It has me desperately wanting the next act to be released sooner and not later. It actually stands as perhaps a top three Final Fantasy experience for me, something that its original was never even close to. If every remake had the acute precision and quality as Final Fantasy VII Remake, maybe more of them would be endearing to me. Then again, having as few of such quality makes them that much more profound to me.
1. Yakuza: Like A Dragon (XSX)
Over the last decade, there have only been a small handful of JRPG’s that I found to have been beyond captivating. The two most prominent JRPG’s – Persona 5 and Dragon Quest XI, were phenomenal games that were led by stories and characters that helped immerse you into their world with ease. While I was emotionally invested in both journeys, they stopped just short of evoking emotional extremes that the likes of Suikoden has.
That is, until Yakuza: Like a Dragon was released.
While I knew this would be a highlight of 2020 in regards to gaming, I never thought in the 65-70 hours I spent with Ichiban Kasuga and his friends, that it would pull a Suikoden on me – evoke emotions that almost never come to play when playing a video game. It’s a testament to the storytelling and character development, that I fell so in love with every second I spent with it.
While I literally own every US Yakuza title released on the PS4 (basically all but Dead Souls, though I’m more than fine not owning that), I’ve had so many start-stop experiences with the franchise, that I’ve barely put enough time in any single one to really become invested in the series. None of this matters with LAD though, as this is a new journey with a new protagonist, with a new combat system. Random battles have shifted from the beat-em-up-like structure of the Kiryu saga, to a zany, over-the-top JRPG battle system that was a blast to play, albeit something I only ever came close to a party wipe only twice. Lack of difficulty notwithstanding, LAD delivered in every other facet.
Each of Kasuga’s crew that he meets along the way were an absolute pleasure to get to know. From Nanba’s own twists and turns with his background, to how you meet Adachi and what his motives are, this eclectic gang of misfits are some of the most enjoyable characters I have ever had the pleasure of getting to know in a video game. LAD‘s storyline takes its self seriously enough to where not only will you be captivated with the twists and turns, but the comedic bits are well timed without throwing off the mood, as well as having a mostly silly set of substories to contend with throughout. While it can seem jarring to go from a main story plot point dealing with death and betrayal, to fighting a monkey that escaped its cage and commandeered a forklift in the climax of a substory arc, it’s a unique balance that LAD pulls off well.
The amount of side content in general has to be commended, not just by how much there is to do, but the diversity of it all. You literally have a business sim, alongside kart racing, as well as little side jobs that sees the player fending off harassers, to collecting bugs. That’s not to mention the several dozen substory quests found as the main storyline progresses. You also build a bond with your friends by defeating random encounters, or sharing a restorative meal with them, which opens up bonding moments between Kasuga and each friend that reaches that cap in bond. Even the banter between the gang when walking past triggered locations helps you get to know everyone a bit more.
The final hours were difficult to complete, not because the experience soured, but because it meant that it was the end of my time getting to know Kasuga and the companions he gained throughout his journey. Without giving anything away as to what happened, this was the third time in the last twenty years that a game moved me to tears. The story and characters have to be something absolutely special to evoke that kind of emotion from me, and Yakuza: Like a Dragon is just that – something special.
I’d been eagerly anticipating Cyberpunk 2077, almost more than any other game I’ve looked forward to before it. I thought that it would easily be my favorite game this year, but I never thought that there would be such an emotional investment to Yakuza: Like A Dragon (nor did I expect Cyberpunk 2077 to turn out the way it did). After letting that final half hour digest some more, had I done a list of my top 25 games of all-time today, there’s absolutely no doubt that this would be in the top ten, closing in to top five. I know sometime in 2021, I will go back to it on a new game plus, or complete every minigame offered. There’s no way in hell that I won’t return in the not too distant future.
Very few RPG’s – hell, very few video games, leave a lasting impression that reminds you why you love gaming as much as you do, like Yakuza: Like a Dragon does. Genuinely one of the greatest games I have ever had the privilege of playing, and my highest recommendation for JRPG fans, as well as anyone looking for a story, world and characters that will leave lasting impressions on them well after the credits end.