10. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty

This was a hard one for me and putting it into text is even harder. Because I love Wo Long. The core of the game is both its greatest strength and weakness at the same time. Wo Long feels really good to play. Being able to parry every single hit in the game turns every fight into a learning experience. Learn the pattern, parry every hit, and counter. It feels incredible when it’s at its best, but unrewarding and boring when you’ve gotten a handle on the systems. It’s why I’m sad that I came away feeling almost nothing after most stages. The first boss requires you to learn the mechanics, and then Lu Bu, the first time you fight him, requires you to master them, and gives you what might be my favorite boss fight in action game history. 

It rules.

It rules so much and it makes the rest of the game around it suffer in comparison. The highs of the game are so high, but for the most part, it’s a forgettable slog with only a few standout levels that really don’t capture the magic that Nioh had for me. It also does the towering house sized boss thing that Team Ninja games have always done and good god it’s absolutely miserable every time one of those comes up. Just utterly terrible boss fights that really take away from the experience of the game and I would rather have 20 more of the piss-easy one-attempt bosses that made up 90% of the game than any of these. Even at higher difficulty, the game felt easy, which led to me to eventually fall off completely. I’m really glad for my first experience, but the more time that passes, the further it’s just kinda flopped down my list and made my subsequent time just poking at mostly mediocre DLC offerings feel unrewarding and led to it almost losing its place completely on my list. I know this all sounds really negative, but I do still think this is a great starting point for Team Ninja action games that you can use to branch out into much better games like Stranger of Paradise and Nioh 2.

9. Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker

That’s right, it’s back in the list. After last year I really had to take a step back and reevaluate my place with the game. I was completely raid-pilled and burned myself out completely. I was getting ready to just uninstall and be done with it, but I decided to do something I’d never thought of doing before: try new things. Lo and behold, it worked. Fishing became like my side activity while I edit podcasts, and instead of FFXIV being the main game I played in my free time, it became something of a side game. I’d raid with friends in what was a solid final tier, but I mostly just poked at a lot of the stuff I had neglected before in favor of raiding. Suddenly, the game was fun again, and I was in a much better place in my relationship to the game. Now when I raid, it’s pretty much only to learn new fights, or help other people clear them. It’s nice to be in a good space with Final Fantasy again, it’s nice to be excited for the new expansion, and I really hope this feeling continues.

8. Game of The Generation Nioh 2

I’M SORRY I PUT ANOTHER 200 HOURS INTO IT I CAN STOP ANYTIME I WANT I SWEAR.

7. Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin

I enjoyed Stranger of Paradise in my initial playthrough, but I never went back to it for the DLC until this year after I finished Wo Long. Well, I finally went back in and polished off all of the DLC that I’d missed out on and yeah, this game is fantastic. The game flow feels so good when you get going, and the added jobs make the complete package a stellar game. I like the stage design a ton, and the DLC offerings led to some really fun fights that left me on the edge of my seat, and felt incredibly rewarding when I finally finished it all off. Just a fantastic action game from start to finish with DLC that added a lot to the package and genuinely felt really awesome. 

I’m still disappointed that it’s all locked behind the CHAOS difficulty when the initial campaign offered a story difficulty, but their attempt to mitigate that actually might have made it worse. They just give you a set of armor that reduces your XP gain by 30%, but makes you invulnerable, and that’s just kinda stupid. Even if I were playing on easy, I still want to play the game. Like yes, it lets you experience the last bits of the story it’s telling, but removing all the challenges in a game like this when there was already a well-balanced “story” difficulty is just a mistake. There are a lot of other issues with the way the DLC was designed, but the overall feel and experience of finishing off the story gave me a really good feeling with some incredibly rewarding fights against classic bosses like Omega and Gilgamesh. It’s always nice to hear Jack tell people to shut the fuck up mid-monologue.

6. Spider-Man 2

There aren’t many open-world games that nail traversal, but I’ll be damned if they didn’t absolutely kill it with this one. A fantastic-playing game from start to finish, and while the narrative left a little to be desired at points, as an overall story it was comic books as hell and something I enjoyed. It felt like a contained event comic with each part being in a different book, and I can vibe with that. You had the Miles issues and the Peter issues and the stuff in between really just felt like filler you’d see depending on who you were controlling. I played most of the open-world stuff as Miles so I felt like I got a whole lot more from him than most of my friends who spent more of their time as Peter. It was interesting seeing people talk about how nothing of a character Miles was whereas I was, having a relatively even experience. I’m not saying their criticism is invalid; when I think about it, yeah, a lot of that critique is a pretty good read on the overall flow of the narrative making Peter feel more important, but it really worked for me in the end as a good passing of the torch.

5. Octopath Traveller 2

Imagine a company taking every single criticism of a game and addressing all of that for the sequel. I would’ve never expected Square Enix to be that company. I came into this expecting, well, not much, and it ended up being at the top of my list for a significant chunk of my year. I still absolutely love the battle system of this game and with all the little tweaks and new characters, this is miles ahead of the first game. Just an absolutely fantastic time with a good story, great characters, good puzzle gimmicks, and just a far more streamlined experience had me put a metric ton of time in the game and I’m sure it would be higher on this list if I had completely finished it. Who knows, maybe it will make a return next year when I really dig back in to finish.

4. Baldur’s Gate 3

I thought for sure when I finished my first playthrough that this would be top 2. No way anything could take it over. So many great moments, so many great characters, so many things I just really kept coming back to. I took 10 characters through the first 2 chapters and each gave me a completely different experience. I thought that was so cool. Something you really can only do with a game like this. But then something happened, it just kind of lost its spark. Maybe it was just that I burned myself out, or maybe it was all the updates that in the end, felt like they made it a bit less interesting of a game. I still really love what I got out of it, but I also feel like the more I go back, the less I want to keep going back.

3. Coral Island

I’m going to give this game some real flack despite it being near the top of my list for the year. I put 100+ hours into an unfinished farming sim that felt that way. I’ve appreciated the constant updates and bug fixes, but the game still did not feel like a 1.0 version. Having an entire mermaid kingdom with no real interactions felt bad, and I’m extremely excited for 1.1, but as something being called a 1.0 build? It should not have been called that, because Coral Island is still not in a state where that label fits. That being said, what is here is absolutely stellar. The ability to change the speed of the daily timer is a must-have in games like this, same with the ability to have monsters only attack on aggro if you just aren’t feeling like you want to do combat. The daily grind gameplay loop is very satisfying thanks to the aforementioned ability to change the daily timer. No plans for the day? You can just speed up the timer, do your daily chores, and it’s the next day in 5 minutes. You want to explore the dungeon? Cut the timer speed in half so you can guarantee you can at least get to the next floor checkpoint. It’s such a nice change that it really takes the pressure off of the daily grind which is part of why I can’t play Stardew Valley without significant mods to make some of those quality of life changes that Coral Island has out of the box. Plus, now that they’ve fixed the absolute disaster that was the console release, this is worth buying for any fan of these kinds of games

2. Alan Wake 2

Remedy Games has been trying to nail the gameplay mixed with live action stuff for a very long time now. Every game they’ve made since Max Payne has been a mix of mediums and it’s been really cool to watch them grow. They came close with Control, but this is where they really perfected it. You can show everyone “We Sing” and they will be blown away by the way the band movements lead you in the right direction in really cool ways, as every screen has something to watch. But it’s not even the best part of the game. That’s what’s wild. You can show someone one thing to get them to play, but there are things that come later which blow it out of the water. Just a simply incredible experience from start to finish, and one I can’t wait to go back to for more.

1. WitchSpring R

Game of the Year for me is always about comfort. Sometimes it’s about fun, but sometimes it’s just something hitting at the right place at the right time to give you exactly what you need. That’s what happened with Witchspring R when my friends Zesh and Nico just wouldn’t stop talking about this game. Telling me I needed to play it. I’d peek into a stream and see him reacting to things completely out of context and just think it’s a cute game but whatever. But they pushed, and they pushed, and so I added it to the list of intros I was going to try for the 24 hour stream. I was interested from what I had seen, but some of the other games held much more appeal to me from the way they were made. I mean this was a remake of a South Korean phone game. There is no way this is going to be good right? 

Then I started and I was hooked. I just skipped past the 2 other games I had planned for the rest of my segment and kept playing. It bled right into my next stream and suddenly I had thrown Octopath Traveller 2 off of my stream plans and it was all Witchspring. I mean how can you not love a game about a character named Pieberry who named herself that because the only memories she had were that she loved Pie and Strawberries. It’s adorable. From just a surface level of description it sounds like the most generic JRPG you could ever play. In the first few hours, the thing that kept me going was just a really fun battle system with rewarding progression, but the story was just kind of in the back of my mind. It set up mysteries that I wanted answers to because I thought it would be a cute and wholesome time…

And then you leave the woods. The game continues to be charming, introducing tons of characters both good and back who all have unique and interesting characters. You make friends, your friends stab you in the back and you keep moving on. Suddenly the thing keeping me going isn’t the fact that it’s cute, it’s that I’m in the role of the most optimistic person imaginable and terrible things are happening all around her. I was hooked and the game did not let go until I finished. Long 10 hour sessions of just needing to know what would happen next. Would Pieberry find her mother and find out who she truly is? Would any of the people who had betrayed her in the name of the Pope have a face turn? What is even going on? Oh god why am I crying, how dare this game make me cry from genuine feelings, it’s supposed to be a cute game about a girl named Pieberry who loves pie and strawberries. 

I really don’t think I’ve played a game with such near perfect pacing until now. It’s designed with an amount of side content that never wears out its welcome, and there wasn’t a single part that I could look back on and say “Hey, they should really have cut this out” or “Hey, they really should have expanded this a bit.” So many games will add optional bosses, and this one does that, but at no point did I feel like I was having to grind anything to get to that point. There was a little bit of going back to areas to get a few materials for upgrades I wanted, but even then, finishing 100% of the game, crafting every single upgrade, took me less time than one zone of some games today. And I’m not saying that’s bad, it’s just this was the exact kind of time sink that I needed last year, The kind of thing I could play through when I was constantly traveling from convention to convention across both sides of the country. It’s not often a game makes you feel rewarded for the entirety of your time, but this one where every second of my playtime felt like it meant something, like I was always progressing something and that’s why it’s my Game of the Year. I may never come back now that I’ve finished the hard mode DLC they added, but I’ll be damned if it didn’t leave its mark in my memory more than anything else I played.

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