By Justin Guillou / January 18th, 2021
2020 was an exhausting year to say the least. But one thing that 2020 definitely delivered on was video games. There have been some quality titles released throughout the entire year across many genres. In addition to this, I took the opportunity to play some older titles I missed out on and discovered some new favorites. I’ll start with an older game that was recently made available in English thanks to the community.
Sakura Wars (1996)
When the new Sakura Wars title came out, I bought it and played about one chapter of it until I stopped myself and said, “I’m going to play some of the older games before coming back to finish it.” Luckily for me, a fan translation of the first game had been completed not too long before, so I imported a copy of the Sega Saturn release, dumped the CD into my PC and applied the translation patch. To my surprise, the original Sakura Wars has aged remarkably well and was one of the single greatest and most engrossing experiences I’ve ever had playing a video game. When the credits rolled I said to myself out loud, ” I get it. I get why people love this franchise so much.” I then played Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love and enjoyed that one perhaps even more than the first game! I finally finished up the newest game in the series and while I had my share of nitpicks with it, I do think it’s a solid foundation for SEGA to build on in a sequel. By that point, Sakura Wars went from being a franchise I only had a slight passing interest in to becoming a favorite, and I couldn’t get enough of it. “Geki! Teikoku Kagekidan” is a song that has been stuck in my head ever since I first heard it. I even started to track down some of the DVDs of the anime. It’s easy to dismiss Sakura Wars as just a silly dating sim with a self-insert protagonist, but it’s so much more than that. It’s an incredibly uplifting game about a team coming together and forming genuine relationships and bonds with each other as they overcome some hardships, and save the day while piloting some cool looking robots. 2021 marks the 25th anniversary of the series, and I would love nothing more than for SEGA to announce a remaster of the original game so more people can experience this unforgettable gem of a game.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim
Nothing could have prepared us Vanillaware fans for the ride that would be 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim. The breathtaking visuals, the excellent music, the addicting battle system, the believable characters, all added up to one amazing experience. There truly is nothing else quite like it, and I hope that those of you looking to try it out sometime steer clear of spoilers to the best of your ability, as this is a game well-worth experiencing with a clean slate. The most beautiful part about the game is that it’s structured in a way where everyone will experience the story and the twists in their own unique way, allowing you to interpret it in all sorts of different manners. At its core, it’s one massive love letter to sci-fi movies and shoujo manga. It may not have received too much attention at launch, but there is a reason why you keep seeing the game pop up a lot on your Twitter feeds lately.
Final Fantasy VII Remake
I’ll be honest, my expectations for Final Fantasy VII Remake weren’t that high. It was clear they were going to make some big changes and it wouldn’t be a “traditional” remake of the Final Fantasy VII many of us know. However, I decided to give it a chance because the idea of a full-length game based on, and expanding, the events set in Midgar was appealing to me. The Midgar chapter of Final Fantasy VII was always my favorite part of the original game, and I always wanted more of that. FFVII Remake delivered on that and then some. I really loved how the characters were portrayed and have never appreciated the cast of FFVII more than I do right now. Midgar truly came to life in a way that felt far more immersive and interesting than the original version. The music was also incredible, and seeing how much attention to detail was put in some of the enemy designs and areas was just a pure treat. They even managed to turn throwaway enemies, like Hell House, into some of the most engaging and thrilling boss battles I’ve ever experienced in an RPG. In fact, many of the battles were just a ton of fun, mixing some great spectacle with a tight and satisfying battle system. I’m not sure how the sequel(s) are going to play out, especially given the nature of the ending. However, I can enjoy FFVII Remake on its own merits.
Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition
Xenoblade Chronicles was a game that helped me get through a real rough patch, back when it released in 2012, and it certainly helped me get through a rough year again in 2020. Definitive Edition would be the first time I did a full playthrough of the game since my initial one all those years ago. Naturally, I wasn’t too sure how well the game would hold up, and while its flaws are a bit more apparent today, I still had a blast revisiting the Bionis and Mechonis and grew to appreciate the world more than ever. The new visuals and music helped make the experience feel fresh again and the new “Future Connected” campaign was a nice little bonus. If you’re new to Xenoblade or are looking for a nice RPG to play on your Switch that can deliver dozens of hours of fun, I can’t recommend it enough.
Touhou Luna Nights
I’m not well versed in Touhou lore, however, Touhou Luna Nights caught my interest when I saw how beautiful the spritework was. And, thankfully, the game plays just as well as it looks. It’s a light Metroidvania style game that, while short, offers some truly fun levels and memorable boss fights. The time manipulation abilities are simple to understand and offer a lot of freedom in terms of how you can approach the obstacles, puzzles and bosses. The amount of polish in this game is actually insane and it rivals some of the best 2D games I have ever played. It was really hard to put this one down after I started playing it.
2020 may not be the best year I’ve ever had and, due to “certain circumstances,” I had to spend more time at home than I usually do. However, that gave me a lot more time to play the games in my collection, along with the many amazing titles that were coming out. I played and finished a lot of games last year and they were often the highlight of my day, and almost all of them helped bring a smile to my face. It was hard to just pick five games, but each of the games I mentioned have become new favorites. Hopefully, 2021 is not only a better year for the world, but also will be yet another great year in gaming.
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