2020 was certainly a crazy time for the world. Many unfortunate happenings, the spread of a pandemic, people having to stay home, it was definitely an eventful time. With all these things occurring around us, I thought it’d be the perfect time to tackle my, always growing, backlog of games. Since I was tackling this backlog, most of the games on this list did not release in the year 2020. With that being said, take a gander at my favorite games I played in 2020.
Final Fantasy VII Remake
I have many fond memories with the original Final Fantasy VII. Most of these memories involve watching my older brother play through the game while I watched and enjoyed the game’s story and music. “Let the Battles Begin!” is still one of my favorite battle BGM’s of all time. So of course when Final Fantasy VII Remake was announced, it immediately made my list of most anticipated games. I was honestly a bit worried about the title, but those worries were unfounded. The game’s new hybrid of action/turn-based gameplay was a breath of fresh air and a blast to play. It was also great to see characters such as Jessie get fleshed out more in the story, as they really did not get any development in the original game. And of course, the music in the game is still top-notch, just like in the original. Square Enix managed to make this game feel like a fresh new experience, despite it being dubbed a remake. For this, FF7R definitely deserves a spot in my favorite games played in 2020 list.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II
Trails of Cold Steel II is the last Trails game I managed to beat before the year was over. It takes place after the massive cliffhanger ending from Cold Steel I, and continues the story of Class VII in the country of Erebonia, now locked in massive conflict. I felt the story was a bit slow in Cold Steel I, so the escalation of conflict and tension in Cold Steel II was a welcome change. The turn-based gameplay is still solid and the movements of character models definitely improved. The game did a good job of closing out Class VII’s life at Thors Military Academy while also setting the stage for future games in the series. While I felt the game’s story wasn’t as solid as previous games in the Crossbell duology and Liberl trilogy, Cold Steel II did a good job of pushing world events forward, developing the members of Class VII, and even managed to surprise me with certain plot reveals. And, as always, the music in the series is still good.
The Legend of Heroes: Zero no Kiseki
The Legend of Heroes: Zero no Kiseki follows Lloyd Bannings and the members of the Special Support Section as they struggle against corrupt government officials, organized crime groups and even cults, in their attempt to bring peace to Crossbell State and improve the reputation of the Crossbell Police Department. I loved watching the members of the SSS slowly come together as a cohesive unit and eventually become friends. Learning about the back stories of each member of the SSS was great and, at times, heart rending. I also loved seeing how they closed a certain story arc which began in Trails in the Sky SC, specifically involving two young Bracers and a certain young girl. And whenever there was a big revelation in this game, it managed to give me a “woah” moment most of the time. With a good story, interesting characters, solid turn-based gameplay, and a great soundtrack (“Get Over The Barrier” is possibly my favorite normal encounter music in the series, and its arranged version is even better), Zero no Kiseki easily breaks into my favorite games of 2020.
While not officially released in English, The Legend of Heroes: Zero no Kiseki is fully playable in English, thanks to the folks at Geofront. You just need to have a copy of the Japanese PC release, and you’ll be able to experience the game fully translated! You can purchase your own copy from Falcom’s official web store or, if you want a digital copy, can purchase from DLsite.
The Legend of Heroes: Ao no Kiseki
Ao no Kiseki takes place after the events of Zero no Kiseki. Lloyd and the Special Support Section must now deal with the conspiracies of the Erebonian Empire and the Republic of Calvard, as well as the Society of Ouroboros. Let me just get this out of the way, I absolutely loved this game. Ao no Kiseki managed to take every aspect of Zero no Kiseki and improve it in every way. The music is still banging and the introduction of the Burst system allowed for a variety of strategies during gameplay. It also featured, possibly, one of the most difficult bosses I’ve ever fought in the Trails franchise. It was quite the moment when I managed to beat them. The story in the game is amazing. It was like a nonstop barrage of epic moments and insane revelations. It really got me to feel for the citizens of Crossbell as they are constantly met with oppression from their two, more powerful, neighboring countries. Learning the origins of a certain character and seeing them used and unhappy still gets to me. In addition to the main story, the side events were also quite interesting. Ao no Kiseki is definitely one of the strongest entries in the Trails franchise thus far. If you love JRPGs, this is definitely a game you have to check out.
Like Zero no Kiseki, The Legend of Heroes: Ao no Kiseki has not officially released in English. Unlike Zero no Kiseki, Geofront’s localization patch for the game is not available yet. However, an English patch which fully translates the game is available if you look online. It certainly won’t be as clean and nice as Geofront’s Zero no Kiseki patch. That being said, you can still play the game from start to finish while being able to understand the story. You would also have to procure a Chinese PC copy of the game in order to play. It was unfortunately not released in Japan on PC like Zero no Kiseki. A guide to purchase the game on Joyoland can be found HERE.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky the 3rd
Last, but certainly not least, is Trails in the Sky the 3rd, the final game in the Liberl trilogy. It features new protagonists, and takes place entirely in an area known as Phantasma. The game is definitely more of a dungeon-crawler than other games in the franchise, but that doesn’t mean it’s worse. In fact, I’d say it’s up there as one of the strongest entries in the franchise, right next to Ao no Kiseki. Trails in the Sky the 3rd follows Kevin Graham and Ries Argent as they work to discover the mysteries of Phantasma and find a way to escape the area, all while running into familiar faces along the way. Like other entries, Trails in the Sky the 3rd features solid turn-based combat and a good soundtrack. Where this game shines the most is how it develops its characters and tells its story outside of the events of Phantasma. You do this by finding special doors scattered throughout Phantasma and having specific party members with you when you access the door. These doors show players events that take place prior to Phantasma appearing, and these events help to develop characters and introduce plot points which may be significant in future games in the franchise. I found each of these events to be interesting and entertaining, the most memorable involving a certain young girl. This particular event broke my heart and also managed to anger me, as I really felt bad for this character. Trails in the Sky the 3rd did a great job closing the book on the adventures of Estelle’s crew, and gives a memorable farewell to a cast of characters I grew attached to since Trails in the Sky FC. As I said with Ao no Kiseki, if you love JRPGs, you definitely have to give this game a go.
It was definitely a busy year of gaming for me. As you’ve most likely noticed by now, my year was dominated by Nihon Falcom, and, specifically, games from their Trails franchise. I played through five of them this year! I love how each game is connected in some way and how plot points of early games in the series are brought to the forefront again in later games. I’m currently on Cold Steel III, which means I only have this game and Cold Steel IV left before I’m done with all the Trails games available in English. It’ll be bittersweet once I finally get through them, but I’ll definitely try to enjoy the journey for as long as it lasts. Here’s hoping I’ll be able to play through some newer titles in 2021 once I’m done playing through that franchise.