I can’t very well write something for the end of 2020 without leading off with how trash of a year it was. Between the COVID-19 pandemic, all of the civil unrest we’ve seen unfolding particularly in the United States, and the clown show that was the 2020 US presidential election (seriously America, get it together, we Canadians are worried), it’s a miracle we’ve been able to get through the year without someone triggering some kind of zombie apocalypse. Hell, 2020 was even a rough year for games between the chaotic launch of the new console generation, Cyberpunk 2077, and whatever Nintendo’s trying to pull now (#FreeMelee). Despite all that, there were still some amazing games this year though that definitely helped get people through the rough. It’s time for me to recount my top 5 games of 2020.
Starting with a game that wasn’t even close to being on my radar going into 2020, Ikenfell is a fun tactical RPG that offers a unique take on the “magic school” setting that I can only describe as what Harry Potter would have been if actually written with LGBTQ+ representation in mind and without any of J.K. Rowling’s weird Twitter retcons. The story follows a girl named Maritte who is what’s known as an Ordinary (non-magic folk) as she tries to break into Ikenfell, the premiere magic school, in hopes of finding her missing witch sister Safina. Before even setting foot in the school our protagonist gains some unexplainable fire powers, which puts her on a quest to find both her sister and to solve the mystery of her newfound magic. The storytelling and characterization in the game made me smile for most of my time with it, with every party member having great dialogue and personality and most of them having a great story arc (they did my boy Rook dirty). The soundtrack in Ikenfell is absolutely amazing, having been done by aivi & surasshu of Steven Universe fame and the talented Sabrielle Augustin, and I’m worried that this game’s soundtrack will go largely unnoticed. The combat system of Ikenfell is great as well, despite the fact that I feel like they could have expanded on it so much more, drawing comparisons with games like the older Mario RPG games and especially South Park: The Fractured but Whole. You have a tactical grid-based system complete with area control combined with timed button presses for every single allied and enemy attack that will greatly optimize your battle capabilities once you master it all. Ikenfell was a surprise hit for me this year, and I recommend any RPG fans or fans of Harry Potter-esque settings to give it a shot.
4. One Step From Eden
My most anticipated game for this year did not disappoint in the slightest. If you haven’t yet read my past content for One Step From Eden (found here and here), this game combines two things I love: roguelites and Mega Man Battle Network. These games fill the deck-building niche that so many people love while providing players with super fast-paced yet strategic combat that is otherwise incredibly rare to find within deck-builders. The only knock that I would have against what Eden has to offer is that it is absurdly difficult at times, and this is coming from someone who was regularly completing runs up to Hell Mode 4 (think Ascension levels from Slay the Spire), so I have the confidence to say I’m not just trash at the game. Whether it’s getting crushed by utterly oppressive enemy combinations, not getting any lynchpin cards in your desired deck build or getting stuck with a tier 4 Terra boss fight leading into the final area, there’s a lot of bull to deal with in Eden. Despite all this, however, the sheer sense of satisfaction I got from downing bosses and finishing runs with a strong deck build was unlike anything else I felt this year. One Step From Eden is one of those games I’ll keep coming back to multiple times for years, and I hope that there’s solid developer support beyond the first year
3. Ori and the Will of the Wisps
I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that no game has ever made me cry as much as Ori and the Will of the Wisps has. Although to be fair, it is the only game that has ever made me cry. As a follow-up to the phenomenal Ori and the Blind Forest, Will of the Wisps expands on everything that made Blind Forest great; the story, the environments, the level design, the skills, and even the combat which wasn’t a huge factor in the first game. The combat was actually what originally impressed me the most in Will of the Wisps, with Ori getting access to a much more robust moveset compared to what they had in Blind Forest including weapons like a sword and a bow, and more energy-based skills. The soundtrack and visuals are nothing short of breathtaking, which is to be expected from Ori but still incredibly impressive all the same. There is also the addition of more traditional boss fights compared to Blind Forest which featured more environmental challenges and chase sequences. The boss fights themselves also carry great emotional weight and each fight marks a huge turning point in the story. The ending of Will of the Wisps hit me in a way that no other game before it has, and I don’t think I will ever forget it, even if I end up never playing the game again.
2. Final Fantasy 7 Remake
I don’t really know what I can say about the Final Fantasy 7 Remake, but I’ll give it my best shot. This game was definitely on my radar heading into 2020, but I was by no means counting down the days to its release. I had also never given the original Final Fantasy 7 much of a look outside of looking up the general story beats. I never played the game and had always thought it to be overrated. I was wrong, my bad. This game is a bloody masterpiece and I’m desperately craving the next installment already. I’m even considering just playing the original because I want more so badly. FF7R features what is probably one of the best gaming soundtracks ever made, and the combat is so much better than what people were saying it was going to be once it was revealed it was going to be an action RPG much in the vein of Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy 15. Each playable character has their own playstyle and moveset, and I firmly believe that Tifa is one of the best well-designed action RPG characters of all time. The enemy variety within the game is great, most of the encounters with both regular enemies and bosses are really fun (sahagins can go pound sand), and there’s a great deal of character customization available through the materia system where you socket passive abilities and spells into your gear for use in battle. The game obviously has its problems, like some weird issues with graphical detail and texture pop-in, as well as the story at times getting to Kingdom Hearts level of nonsensical, but it is so worth your time despite those relatively minor flaws. I can’t wait to see how the next installment expands on the combat and materia system, and what direction the story will go in.
I had no idea Hades was set to come out of Early Access this year, and I did not expect to fall in love with it as much as I have. As the fourth title to be released by Supergiant Games, Hades continues the Supergiant tradition of having an amazing art style, amazing voice acting, an amazing soundtrack, and a way of blending dramatic elements with the gameplay mechanics that nobody else has done quite as well as Supergiant. What Hades does differently from the rest of Supergiant’s catalog is that it’s a roguelite through and through, and each run regardless of success or failure adds to the overarching story. With enough runs under your belt, you’ll unlock some extra story segments like interactive flashbacks and scripted sequences, which is a great way to break up the repetition between runs. The way that Hades handles difficulty and build variety also rubs me the right way. Once you unlock all of the available weapons in the game there will be one weapon that will randomly get a buff that increases the rate at which you get currency used to buy permanent upgrades, which encourages you to use different weapons every run instead of just spamming one weapon you’re comfortable with until you win. The difficulty in the game is also something completely customizable once you finish your first run, after which you gain the ability to activate any number of different modifiers to make the next run more difficult and potentially unlock greater rewards. Everything I’ve said about Hades so far doesn’t even scratch the surface of everything it does right. I firmly believe that Hades is best-in-class for the roguelite genre, and that’s why it is above and beyond my game of the year for 2020.