2021 felt like the dark, gritty sequel to 2020 that nobody asked for. Looking back at the games I played this year, I found a pattern—most of them were picked from the basket of older games I hadn’t gotten around to at the time or from the basket of completed games I already knew I would enjoy, and all of them were chosen because I knew they’d bring some level of comfort, either from familiarity or nostalgia. Even the few new games I played were chosen for comfort. When the world still feels like it’s just one unexpected crisis away from falling apart, it’s no wonder that I gravitated towards these types of games to spend some of my free time with.
3. Tales of Arise – PC, PlayStation, Xbox
I haven’t played a Tales game since Symphonia on the GameCube, but the positive buzz and flashy combat in Arise got my attention. What I didn’t expect was a well-told story with fully realized characters in a creative world that’s far more coherent than most JRPG stories. The developer seems to have gotten the resources they needed to take the series to the next level, and I’m glad they did. I loved everything about Arise, and I’d love to see more JRPG franchises get this kind of treatment.
2. Metroid Dread – Switch
The indie scene took the reins from Nintendo in the genre of Metroid-style games years ago, but with Dread, Nintendo has finally given us something that can hang with its contemporary peers. After being underwhelmed by Samus Returns on the 3DS, I was expecting Dread to be another middling entry from Mercury Steam. Luckily, they learned the right lessons from previous 2D Metroid games as well as from the pantheon of fantastic indie games that have evolved the genre since. Dread was a nice surprise, and I hope we see more like it in the coming years.
1. Monster Hunter Rise – Switch
As much as I loved the scale and production value of Monster Hunter World, especially Iceborne, the return of Monster Hunter to a portable console in Rise on the Switch was exactly what I wanted. This game dominated the middle third of 2021 for me, and it proved that the series still has plenty of room to adapt and evolve without changing the core of what makes it so great.