2020’s been a real grease fire, and I’m a much different woman now than I was going into it. This was supposed to be my first full year of living on my own, building my ideal life, and becoming a more independent person. Instead, I spent most of it inside, stewing in my own juices at the abysmal state of the world.
During that time, though, I managed to find hope in a few different places. The support of my girlfriend, my friends, and my fellow editors kept me sane, and helped to prevent me from collapsing. But another source of comfort, as always, were video games. Gaming provided a much-needed escape for me this year, and this list of games were ones that, in their own way, helped keep my hope alive in 2020.
10. Yakuza: Like A Dragon
In Yakuza: Like A Dragon, you can put on makeup to buff yourself and punch men in the face. You can also use a Hitachi Magic Wand as a weapon. Great stuff.
Yeah, it came out on mobile last year, but I don’t care. The Switch version just came out, so we’re going to count it and not ask too many questions. Capice?
I digress. Inbento is a sweet game about a mommy cat making elaborate lunchboxes for her kittens, and it’s delightful. I had a stupid grin on my face from start to finish – even as I cussed out the difficult puzzles under my breath. For three bucks, you get dozens of puzzles and storybook illustration of anthropomorphized cats. Honestly? Best bang for your buck this year.
8. Final Fantasy VII Remake
This game is a hot mess, but I love it anyway. Instead of giving fans a by-the-numbers remake, Nomura delivered a buckwild reimagining and reinvention of the 1997 classic. The narrative fucked with fan expectations and wove in stupid parts of expanded lore that I never expected to see outside of spin-offs like Crisis Core. It also added in a whole bunch of new stupid lore – stuff that’s as daft and nonsensical as I’ve come to expect from this period of Nomura. So as a pure remake, sure, I guess this game was a failure. But pure remakes are boring, and for boring people, and I actually preferred this more fleshed-out version of Midgar to the original’s.
As I mentioned in my review, I think about death a lot, and the concept of dying is one that used to fill me with murky dread. But that was a lot worse before I played Necrobarista. Its plainspoken, irreverent attitude towards dying helped me keep that fear under control, and gave me memorable characters to latch onto as I worked through some shit. Aside from that, it’s also just an impeccable work of art. The painstaking homage to different elements of anime aesthetics resulted in a game that felt familiar yet undeniably novel.
6. Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX
“Pika! It’s 4PM, time for your dick flattening!” That used to be the rallying cry of the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series, and don’t get me wrong – Rescue Team DX will still sock it to you with a smile in later levels. This time around, though, I feel like there are more tools and tips in place for beginners. That makes it easier for normal people to play, while still letting absolute clowns like myself get stomped on in that special way we love.
5. Tell Me Why
Remember when I said this could be my new favorite game of all time? Well, I’ve cooled on it a little, but it’s still damn good. Tell Me Why was Dontnod at the top of their game, finally hitting the same notes they did with the original Life Is Strange and Remember Me. Its story of living with and loving a mentally ill parent hit home in some big ways for me, and I connected with Tyler’s struggle to reconcile his love for and his anger towards his mother. It managed to tap into some of the most complicated, fraught aspects of family relationships, without the smallest hint of carelessness. I don’t have any stupid jokes for this one – it’s just great. Play it.
4. Arcade Spirits
I fell in love – like, genuine, true, deep love – at my local arcade growing up. Ever since, I’ve had this unique adoration of them, and have felt crushed as they’ve become less and less relevant over time. To me, there’s nothing quite like being close to the person you care about most, playing Time Crisis together or trying to beat each in DDR. The Arcade Spirits team gets that. And not only do they get it, but they managed to thread the needle between nerdy opining and legitimately great storytelling to make this special game.
3. Cooking Mama Cookstar
Cooking Mama says “flex for the ‘gram” in this game. If you don’t think that’s the tightest shit, get out of my face.
2. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
The new Animal Crossing transcended gamehood into becoming a much more poignant and powerful thing during the pandemic: hope. Hope that we would see our friends, visit each other’s homes, and go on trips again. By providing us with a virtual meeting space inside a cuddly world of talking animals, Nintendo gave us hope that things could go back to “normal” one day. New Horizons was a place of solace and a place of optimism all at once, and on top of that, it was a real knockout of a life sim and the best entry to date.
1. If Found…
Does a game have to be a “game”? Do I have to aim for a good score, or try to build the best house, or look for the strongest weapon to make something a game? Or can a game just be erasing and filling in pictures to a story? I think it can, and I think If Found… makes a great case for that. This game is a mechanical revelation, in that it turns the act of erasing and filling in diary pages into ludic play, which is something I’ve never seen before. The tripped-out visuals and score only add to that experience.
But the reason If Found… is my GOTY isn’t just for how good this thing feels, looks, sounds. Instead, it has to do with the story, and how much it managed to land with me on a personal level. The narrative, which revolves around an awkward trans girl trying to make friends and reconnect with her mother, wrecked my entire world. It felt like a personal attack – like I was being forced to work through stuff I wasn’t ready to face yet.
Even if I wasn’t, though, I’m glad I did. I’m glad this game confronted me with problems that were tangible and real, and not hypothetical escapist hokum, because playing it absolutely made me a better person. And through that, If Found… gave me hope in a way most games just didn’t – hope for both this medium and for myself.
Remember, no matter how bad things get, we can’t ever lose hope. The stories we connect with in gaming are lessons to learn – things we can take with us and use to carry out the good that we want to see in the world. Let your favorites guide you towards a kinder, more just path, or at the very least, use them as an escape from how grim the world seems sometimes.
If we all do that, maybe we can make the world a better place someday.
Honorable Mentions: Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War (look, I played 80 fucking hours of it, okay?) Clubhouse Games, Hades, Zombie Army 4, Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory.
No, I didn’t play Umurangi or Sakuna. Yes, I feel bad about that. Did YOU play every game in 2020, though? Didn’t think so.
Next: TheGamer Editor’s Choices Of 2020 – Andrea Shearon
- TheGamer Originals
- Animal Crossing: New Horizons
- Yakuza: Like A Dragon
- Cooking Mama: Cookstar
- final fantasy 7 remake
- Arcade Spirits
- If Found…
- Tell Me Why
Bella Blondeau is a lovable miscreant with a heart of gold… or so she says.
She likes long walks in dingy arcades, loves horror good and bad, and has a passion for anime girls of any and all varieties. Her favorite game is Nier: Automata, because she loves both robots and being sad.
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