The friends of Ringo Ishikawa immediately drenches anyone who plays it with tones of melancholy. Players follow Ringo Ishikawa in a snapshot of his high-school, senior year. At first, The friends of Ringo Ishikawa looks like a modern day indie tribute to River City Ransom. Players do side scroll and beat up waves of punk kids, but there’s many more verbs to the game than just punch, kick, and block. At many points in the game, various buttons allow the players to do actions that one can roughly describe as posing. There’s no “gameplay benefits” to this. Ringo doesn’t gain experience points or blip a cool achievement. In fact, pretty much nothing in this game has any benefits even the actions that do reward the player. The friends of Ringo Ishikawa open ended gameplay and pose mechanic give it the unexpected verbs of role play, ruminate, and reminisce.
The friends of Ringo Ishikawa is the best single-player, role-playing I’ve ever played, and it’s not even an RPG. I’ve talked about how much I hate video game genre names before, so I won’t reiterate on that. Video games have wrestled with making role playing a compelling mechanic for a long time. The struggle is why role playing is not actually a key mechanic in the video game, role-playing-game, genre, at least anymore. The friends of Ringo Ishikawa does concern itself with Dungeons & Dragons mathematical systems, but it does offer a great jumping off point into role play. The game starts and gives the players absolutely no objective. It doesn’t scream at the player for missing school or beating up random kids. The game even fails to mention where Ringo lives (this one is actually bad but evident to how the game conveys information). Basically all a new player knows is that Ringo Ishikawa is a punk kid with some friends. The game does lace some prompts over the course of the game to aid players, but they’re few and far between. Whatever the player wants to do is what Ringo will do; time marches on regardless.
The game responds to the actions a player takes rewarding dedicated role playing. The game at the start shows your grades, and they’re all F’s bar a C in literature. I took this to heart and decided every time Ringo studied, it’d make sense to ease it in with lit. I also spent a lot of time in the library and buying books. Nothing in the game forced me to follow through with this crumb, but I felt rewarded when I started talking to a girl in class about the books I was reading and received a paid research opportunity from a teacher that believed in me. There’s even more explicit examples through who you decide to fight. One night, I decided to start a fight with the gang hanging outside Ringo’s apartment. A few days later, I got a cutscene of Ringo’s friend, Masaru, telling Ringo to lay off that gang because they’re cool people. From then on, I could help the gang in fights without hitting their members.
Even the moments not directly rewarded in the game felt rewarding because they felt correct. A teacher in the gym offered to put a ping pong table on the roof for ¥3000, and I decided that Ringo would prioritize this. Ringo cares about his friends a lot, and giving them something to do in their hang out spot seemed like something he’d really want. The problem is Ringo is very poor. He lives on his own and has no job, so basically the only way to earn money is through winning fist fights. This isn’t a lot though, but that research opportunity from earlier paid ¥10000. At first, I wasn’t going to do the research since it didn’t fit in with what Ringo seemed likely to do, but he seemed like he would go out of his way to write a 70 page paper to get his friends a ping pong table. Playing ping pong with my friends after school felt so rewarding because this scenario I crafted for myself worked so well. The game gave me all the pieces to tell this compelling story of friendship, and I chose how to assemble them. There’s tons of other moments in The friends of Ringo Ishikawa that I had just for the sake of having them. Whether it was helping out a friendly gang in a fight or just sitting a table with Ringo’s underclassmen, these small moments all felt vitally important to the game despite none of them being scripted story bits. The friends of Ringo Ishikawa sets up a living diorama for the players to act their punk-kid story in.
The friends of Ringo Ishikawa gives players tons of opportunities to just sit an enjoy the moment. If there’s one main mechanic in the game, it’s time management. Every action players perform takes time. One could map out a perfect schedule to study completely, finish every book and movie, see all the dialogue, but I would say that this person wouldn’t actually be playing the game. Grappling with how to spend the last few weeks of Ringo’s senior year is important, but efficiency really isn’t the answer. The game lets players just sit on a dock and stare out into the ocean. There’s no ocean-staring percent that goes up, but those moments add so much more. Stopping and taking everything thing in let the players reflect on the events that occurred in the game so far and might even help them reflect on the actions they have made in their own life. The cigarette and posing mechanic exemplify this. Regardless of their health effects, cigarettes symbolize rumination across media. The game lets Ringo just squat and smoke anywhere. There’s so many moments that just feel right. These add to the role play and engage players unlike any other game. Players having to spend time and money for no tangible benefit show just how valuable these moments are. It only makes sense Ringo would want to hang off his awning and sit after hearing bad news about a friend; why would he study? Watching time pass in the corner as clouds drift in the sky sunk the consequences of my actions into my heart. There’s so many locations in the town that don’t serve a purpose other than existing, and these locations facilitate slowing down and thinking. The friends of Ringo Ishikawa wants players to chew on the feelings it creates.
The friends of Ringo Ishikawa is nostalgic for a time a place the developer didn’t experience. Developer Yeo is actually a Russian game developer who would’ve been in high school about 10 years after the game takes place. As someone who didn’t grow up in the late 80s in a small town in Japan, this surprised me. The game really feels authentic in how it captures its sense of place. I think the setting works so well because it doesn’t really matter. The game is reminiscing about what it’s like in your final days of high school. The game made me nostalgic for them, and my final days of high school couldn’t have been any different than Ringo’s. The friends of Ringo Ishikawa lets me go back to my high school days and relive the best parts. Working hard studying during the week, hanging out with friends on weekends, conversing with friends between class, it’s hard to realize how valuable these moments can be until they’re gone. Ringo hanging out with his friends in his room playing video games makes me long for the time in high school when I did that. Ringo and his friends play ping pong and pool just like me and mine did. The game has tons of moments that let me reminisce about high school days even if my time and place is completely divorced from Ringo’s. Role playing to get into Ringo’s mindset really brings these feelings full up. Ringo doesn’t just play games in a cutscene, I had to gather all my friends and bring them to my house to play. The friends of Ringo Ishikawa doesn’t just turn on a mini game whenever a player wants to play ping pong, pool, or video games. The video game shows up on a tiny television screen, with most of the player’s screen space dedicated to showing Ringo and friends actually playing or lounging about. The pool table is shown from a side view rather than a top down one. The games aren’t the appeal; the actual act of playing them is. The friends of Ringo Ishikawa makes me nostalgic for a time and place I didn’t experience.
Role play, ruminate, reminisce, and so many more non traditional verbs define The friends of Ringo Ishikawa. The game lets players do so much more than just “beat ’em up.” No other game bakes such emotional verbs into its gameplay. I think the steam description actually best describes the game, “You just live there and feel. And that’s all.”
So you wanna write a brand new sports anime, but you don’t know how to structure your story. Don’t worry, it happens to everyone. Thankfully, I’m here to make sure you know exactly how to make sure your sports anime won’t miss a beat and disappoint millions of fans of the genre. These simple steps will take your characters on a poetic journey to learn the value of hard work and the power of friendship. Spoiler warning for every sports anime ever since you too will be able to predict exactly how each one goes after learning this.
1. Fateful Encounter
It’s the start of freshman year, our protagonist has sports on their mind. Who do they meet? Is it their childhood friend? their rival? or just a really enthusiastic player? No matter what, this meeting gets the ball rolling on our story. You usually want to make sure the protagonist and their partner have extremely identifiable strengths and weaknesses, usually that compliment each other.
2. Show Me Your Moves
What can the protagonist do? They might jump super high or throw a cool pitch. Likely, the two characters work together to make their powers extraordinary. This power will define their team moving forward because it’s the best shot they have at going to nationals. It turns their team, which was all around solid but just missing something, into a real threat.
3. Get The Gang Back Together
Not the whole team is here at the start. It’s hard to introduce so many characters at once and make them memorable and well defined. Sports anime tend to spend the first couple of episodes gathering players whether they be new, retired, injured, or suspended. The special trick and our bright protagonists will encourage just about everyone that this is a team worth putting in the work for. The advisor or coach might be introduced here if their role is vitally important to improving the team.
4. The Practice Game
Now that we have a team and a strategy, it’s time to have a practice game. Usually this game is with a top tier team in their region. A pratice match shows the strengths and weakness of a team. The special move will likely get context on how it actually plays out, and it allows the move to not have a surprise factor when they fight this team later. This will define a rivalry and give viewers a rematch to look forward to in the upcoming tournament. Usually the protagonists’s team will lose this match, but they can also win because some key enemy players are missing or show up late. This match will set the tone for every match to come with just how good the team is. Will they breeze through every match until the late stages or struggle on the way there.
5. Training Camp
Our team has a goal and the drive to get there, and what better way to practice than a good ol’ training camp. This shows how our team really is willing to put in the work practicing and is probably an excuse to show off some fun bonding moments. After this our team is for sure ready to take on regionals. You can fit some extra practice matches in a montage as part of this section as well.
6. Bump In The Road
Right before regionals starts, something has to go wrong. It can be as small as people failing their midterms or some big inner team fight about working too hard or starting positions. This small trial will bring the team even closer together when they overcome it, and truly show their resolve.
7. The Tournament Begins
The big tournament is here whether that means regionals or maybe even nationals. The earlier practice match set the pace for our characters to breeze through or struggle with these earlier matches. If our team is going all the way to nationals, then basically all of regionals could fall here.
8. The Big Win
Your team worked hard, and that needs to pay off. They could fight a team that should’ve perfectly countered them, the best in the region, or maybe their rival from the practice match. This is the big climax of the show, so almost all the best moments have to be here.
9. The Big Loss
Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Your team has to lose at some point. There’s so many monoliths that you can choose from to stop our beloved team, but someone has to show the protagonists that their super cool move isn’t the only thing needed to win. The tension’s high regardless of if the match ends in a buzzer beater or is a complete sweep. Losing isn’t always bad; there’s a lot to gain from it.
10. The Somber Taste of Defeat
The loss is over and your players need to learn from that defeat. They let their emotions boil and bawl. The loss informs them of their mistakes and also shows them the value of everything they did up until then. Victory was never the point; the process of getting there was. Show how this loss effects the characters and all of their different views on competition. This also sets up our team to learn for the next tournament and be set to do even better
And that’s it! Pretty much every sports anime is going to follow this rough outline. If there’s multiple seasons the steps loop but they might skip over a few. They might not always introduce new characters, but they will practice hard and learn some new strategies for the next tournaments. Some sports anime focus on individual sports instead of team sports, but generally the ideas still work. They probably practice on a team, but each characters results will vary in individual competitions. There’s always going to be anime that break the mold with having the team actually win the tournament or have the team lose every match. You can get creative with how to not strictly follow this formula. Be wary, Stray to far and you might just not be making a sports anime but an anime with sports instead.
Death is so integral to video games that almost every game includes it. I still remember the outrage over Kirby’s Epic Yarn foregoing death in favor of moving back a few steps and losing a bunch of money. Funnily enough, Shovel Knight would get praised for this same mechanic. Just this time, the game ties it to death, and you go back just a tad bit further. In a large majority of games, death is just an easy way to say you lost. Video games tend to be violent, your character tends to have health, so you tend to lose when you die. Lives and 1-ups are ubiquitous likely because games needed to make money on arcade machines. Some 30+ years after lives in video games were invented, and I spend a month of my one life accidentally playing a bunch of games about death. Surprisingly, the life mechanic doesn’t come up in these games.
From here, I’m gonna try and talk about each game segmented, so spoilers are contained. Spoiler warnings should last from one warning to the next, but likely there’ll be some minor references to the previous works in the later. If you want to fully avoid spoilers for a title, just stop reading there. All images used in this piece will be taken from Snoman Gameplay (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCeP1Enud_t8FBRrDroYPJvQ/featured).
In 2011, Dark Souls came through with a breakout new death mechanic. When you died, you lost all your progress since your last save, but if you went to where you died, you could recover all the experience you got. This factoid might be true, but I both haven’t played Dark Souls and could be wrong about it being the first to do this. I’m actually like 99% sure Demon Souls did it first. Many players likened Shovel Knight‘s death mechanic to Dark Souls‘s, so maybe you could argue Kirby’s Epic Yarn was the first to do this just on the absolute smallest scale possible where your last “save” scales approximately a single foot walk from where you died. Regardless, Dark Souls definitely popularized it, and many games, like Shovel Knight, Hollow Knight, and many FromSoftware games, use the mechanic and iterate on it.
Spoiler Warning for the majority of NieR: Automata
NieR: Automata, a game I actually have played, has a fascinating take on this mechanic. Many mechanics that tend to exegetic are instead diegetic in NieR: Automata. The playable androids actually see the UI just as the player does, and rendering it requires hardware space that players could use for an extra .5% attack boost. This lead me to only using the Mini-map and Text Log chips, as the rest of the UI didn’t seem worth while. Death is similarly mechanicalized. During the [A] and [B] routes of the game, dying actually keeps the consciousness of the android backed-up, and it leaves their body out in the world. The android’s robot bodies simply brake, but everything that happened still happened. Players recover the broken android to regain the lost hardware. The game warns players upon starting that the game will not no auto-save, and it’ll explain why later. Saving is backing up the androids memories, and there’s even hardware that mentions when saving is possible (but why would I ever want to sacrifice my sweet sweet .01% damage boost for that). YoRHa forces the androids to have a self-destruction feature turned on; their missions success is far more important than their hardware. This is shown at the beginning of the game, but with the cruel twist that only 2B actually got backed up, so 9S doesn’t recount their first mission together. At first this seems like a fun way to make dying make more sense, but NieR: Automata turns this mechanic on its head for the [C]/[D] route. Shortly into this third route, the logic virus infects YoRHa, and the back-up system turns offline. From now on, dying is losing all progress. Okay, you can still save. Yoko Taro isn’t that cruel. There’s no more Dark Souls-esque body recovery. Players will lose all their progress and have to redo anything done previously since their last save. Death all of a sudden means something more than a simple chore. There’s so much more at stake; just like how it is for the characters.
Death plays a much bigger role than just mechanics in NieR: Automata. Throughout the game, the game equates dying with some sort of greater role. This is first notably seen with Adam. Adam purposefully disconnects himself from the network in order to experience the threat of death and death itself. He’s engrossed himself in human culture. In order to fully understand humans, he forces himself to confront death. To be human is to know death. Everything a human does is done because we’re a little bit sad, afraid, anxious, knowing it won’t last forever. With infinity to exist and no threat of ever not existing, everything is completely different. Death turns Adam into a human.
This same idea comes up again, but with Kierkegaard, the machine who became God. Upon finding a religious cult, 2B and Pascal arrive at the worst possible moment. Their priest, Kierkegaard, just died and the machines decided that he did this to become god. The machines then all start killing each other and themselves in order to obtain god status as well. NieR: Automata does not address the machine’s philosophy in much detail, so one can take a lot of liberties in its interpretation. The machines mimic humans and based their religion on human culture. This could read similarly to Adam, where the machines equated death with becoming human. I think this makes the most sense, as it fits into NieR: Automata‘s critique on nihilism. There’s definitely room for interpretation on many different fronts for this scene though. Death could be seen as actually becoming god, and the machines simply believed this was the case. The machines also could have just been so lost without their ecclesiastical guidance that they needed to mimic the last action their priest performed. Regardless of which interpretation a player subscribes to, the game focuses a lot on the act of death during this scene.
Many machines use death as an escape during Nier: Automata. There’s many machines that focus themselves on a task, and upon completion or failure, decide that self-destructing is the only option. High-Speed Machine serves as a great example of this. The machines strives only to be fast. Upon losing three races to our androids, they self-destruct. The imbued their life with a singular purpose, but couldn’t handle what happens when something takes that purpose away. This happens a lot in NieR: Automata: Master Servo, Engels, Wise Machine, Pascal. The machines descend into nihilism again and again and use death as an escape. The game revels in nihilism, but it always make death feel incorrect. When Pascal asks the player to kill him or wipe his memories (effectively killing who he is), the game offers a secret third choice to let him live. The fact that the game doesn’t broadcast this option and makes the player chose it for themselves decidedly shows that living, learning from your mistakes, and finding new meaning is the right answer. These ideas culminate in ending [E], after we see our boy 9S descend so deep into nihilism. 2B’s death causes 9S to go down this path. He could not care less about dying as long as he kills the machines. He infects himself with a logic virus when he attaches 2B’s hand to replace his. Then he willing thrusts his body into 2B’s sword just to kill A2 in ending [D]. An aside, I really like how he dies by 2B’s hand; this subtle pun strengthens the 2 and 9 motif. After ending [D] (and [C]), the player then must decide that the endings stink and take ending [E], where the characters live on, for themselves.
9S’s path also mirrors Eve’s descent into nihilistic rage during the [A] and [B] routes. Eve lost his brother Adam and sought revenge on 2B for killing Adam. Both Eve and 9S realize revenge will not accomplish anything, but it gives them a vague sense of purpose until they achieve their goals. Before, both filled their life with relationships to give themselves purpose, but death takes that away from them. NieR: Automata says death does not solve nihilistic pain; death causes it.
Death as a mechanic fleshed out NieR: Automata‘s through its diegesis, and it used death as a motif throughout its story. While both work in there own way, I wished the concept married each other a little bit more. The mechanical changes definitely add more flavor to 9S’s character growth at the end, but games can definitely tie their death mechanics into their theme.
Spoiler Warning for all of Outer Wilds
Outer Wilds central gameplay revolves around death. Shortly after the player’s first voyage into the unknown in Outer Wilds, their character figures out they are trapped in a time loop after they die and return to the start. Either immediately or after a few deaths, player’s will see that they Sun at the center of the solar system goes super nova after 22 minutes of real time. The entire game revolves around solving the mystery of the time loop. Outer Wilds is a pretty high concept game. Many may argue this misses the point entirely, and I probably. I, also, did not explore 100% of the game; although, I only learned I did not see everything after completing the game with only missing a very small amount. To continue, the player learns that these statues send their memories back 22 minutes, and these statues were created to find the eye of the universe, a signal older than the universe itself. The Nomai, a near extinct alien race, created this and called it “The Ash Twin Project.” Sending their memories back 22 minutes requires a super nova’s worth, which explains why this event occurrs now. Along their quest player’s will likely find the coordinates to the eye of the universe, which were found through time having looped 9,318,054 before the player’s character started looping, and a spaceship that can warp to those coordinates. Once at the eye of the universe, the player will enter some sort of wormhole looking thing, arrive at a campsite where they collect musical instruments summoning all of their friends, and then play off until the universe resets.
In order to complete the game in the main way, the player needs to remove the power supply from The Ash Twin Project and put it into the ship. Previously, death had been a simple mechanic to aid in exploration of the universe. The entire universe works on an active timer, and players can only complete many events at certain points in the 22 minute span. If players miss an event, they can simply die and try again. Some examples are sand covering up pathways on the planet Ember Twin and chunks of the planet Brittle Hollow falling into a black hole. When completing the game, the players all of a sudden can die for real again. They turn off the time loop. The implications of this weighed on my soul. There’s only one shot to do the most difficult thing in the game and under a tight time limit. I kept redoing the part right before removing the core to make sure I had the maximum time. The rush of removing the core, the nerve wracking space journey, the constant fear, trying to find the line between not dying and going fast. Outer Wilds creates an experience like no other when it introduces death into its equation. The finality of death in Outer Wilds feels real, much more than losing a life in Super Mario Bros. feels. The game’s death mechanic informs its narrative. Players explore to find out why they don’t die, and players solving the mystery and reintroducing death into the game lets them complete the game.
Outer Wilds also takes place at the heat death of the universe. Chert, a fellow astronaut, will inform the player that a significantly large amount of super novas occurring. They will then have a breakdown once they realize their own sun will super nova eminently. The ending of the game sees all the major astronaut characters join together for a final music camping session while the universe ends. Now I’m not a scientist, but I’m pretty sure the “final moments” of the heat death of the universe probably lasts billions of years after it could sustain life at all. Outer Wilds more fun approach works way better anyways. Stopping the time loop allows the universe to finally end, and the characters all find peace in spending the last moments together. Outer Wilds actually bears striking resemblance to NieR: Automata‘s thoughts on these topics, where company and shared experience helps people overcome these existential crises. Chert goes from a mix of rage, sadness, and insignificance to happily participating in the jam sesh with everyone else. The game finally ends with everyone dying and and the universe reborn anew.
Okay I need another aside. I keep calling it “the Outer Wilds” in my head, and I hate that that’s not how it’s typed. Like, it’s how you would normally converse about the game, but because “the” is absent from the title, everything sounds off. Maybe it’s because the game is eternally confused with The Outer Worlds or maybe it’s my English brain demanding definitive articles for places I have a sense of location for. This isn’t important for this piece, but it’s vitally important that it’s said.
NieR: Automata has interesting death mechanics and motifs, and Outer Wilds uses death to give purpose to its mechanic and define its main theme. It makes sense for any game talking about death to have it as a mechanic, but many do not.
Spoiler Warning for all of What Remains of Edith Finch
What Remains of Edith Finch explores the family curse of the Finch’s, and their curse is death. There’s no dying in any sort of traditional game sense of the word in What Remains of Edith Finch. The game has the player relive the final moments of each family member’s life, usually seen through fantastical stories. Death does not result from failure; playing through death scenes progresses the game. The game instead looks critically at how people deal with the loss of family members.
First, I think I need to clarify that when I say What Remains of Edith Finch does not mechanically have death. One could argue playing out the final moments of someone’s life is a mechanic directly tied to death, and that’s a fair argument. For me, dying in the game is not the important part; those moments before and the reactions around define the game. The only moment I would say the dying strongly tied mechanics and theme was in Lewis’s death.
The family’s curse of death is sort of an oddity since everyone dies. The family curse feels so real playing through the game, yet all families will experience the death of the family members. It is actually more specific than just death: the curse implies all but one child will die before having children of their own. Edith, the titular character, is named after Edie, her grandmother. Edie sets up shrines to dead, complete with portraits of them and some story of the death. Various people and mediums tell these stories; it is not just Edie writing them down. Therapist letters, a ViewMaster, and personal diary are just a few ways the players experience these stories. Edie mourns death so uniquely; I would hesitate to call it morning. Edie much more lovingly revels in death. Growing up, Dawn, Edith’s mother, sheltered Edith from the curse. Dawn acts as a foil to Edie in the way they deal with the deaths of their family members. Dawn watches her father die as a teenager, and then had her husband die and son go missing in quick succession. This likely heavily effected her outlook on the curse compared to Edie, who didn’t experience any death until her mother, father, (infant) brother, and daughter all rapidly died in one year. The closeness of Edie’s first death experience along with her being more mature cemented the curse’s inevitability in her mind. Dawn is more rational, but still deeply afraid since she experienced so much death. The game fights with celebrating versus sheltering.
The game gains a new perspective once the players realize they have been viewing Edith’s death the whole time. While Edith lives through the dangerous exploration of her old family home, she dies in childbirth shortly after. Her son, Christopher, bookends the game with him going to mourn for his mother. Christopher has Edith’s diary, and we can infer Christopher learned the stories from viewing Edith’s story mirroring viewing every other death story. Christopher saw the result from sheltering and the result from celebrating, and ends up morning his mother years later in a very traditional way. The game really wants people to know that everyone deals with death in their own way. What Remains of Edith Finch does not concern itself with which way works best. The way that helps the person morning make it through things okay is the correct option for them. Edie lavished fantasy onto death and played up this curse, and that worked for her. Edie forcing her way of morning onto Dawn hurt dawn and lead to her death.
The game actually does confirm that the curse’s non-existence. What Remains of Edith Finch is actually directly related to The Unfinished Swan. Milton, Dawn’s missing son, fathers a child named Monroe, the playable character in The Unfinished Swan. Milton’s room shows this through the many elements from The Unfinished Swan. Milton both did not die as a child and had a children. Of all of Dawn’s children, Edith died the youngest, at 17. Edith and Milton both had children. The curse was just the way some family members dealt with death, and it scaring Odin to move to America directly contributed to his death. This furthers the theme of dealing with death in your own way and not forcing your way onto others.
So originally I wanted to talk about the game Necrobarista next. That game definitely deserves literary analysis; it has interesting themes about accepting your own death. I don’t think I’d do the game justice talking about it in the confines piece, since it is similar to What Remains of Edith Finch in lacking death mechanic. I thought I would pivot in the complete opposite direction. So far, the three games we’ve looked at all death with themes of death, but what about death just as a game mechanic? Let’s look at murder mystery games. I haven’t played any recently, but who cares I can cheat a bit.
Spoiler Warning for all of Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright
Murder mystery games are some of my favorite. In these games, murders are less about the weight of the death of the individual, and more about how murder is a puzzle. Even Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright, the death of Mia Fey, Phoenix’s mentor and Maya’s sister, is not a major focus of the game thematically. Within her chapter, the game mainly looks to tie capitalism into its critique of police institutions. Mia’s death definitely affects Phoenix and Maya, but the game’s main focus remains elsewhere.
Murder makes for a great set up for a puzzle. Killing someone is not easy, and it leaves a lot of evidence. There’s a good reason why Phoenix doesn’t go around defending people accused of thievery. A murder contains so many interesting factors that lead to endless puzzle combinations: method, place, time, motive, etc. Someone only steals for a few reasons: someone needs money for food or medicine usually. Murder motives vary wildly from self-defense to covering up past murders. Murder also brings spectacle to crime. You don’t take a man out on a boat at midnight to commit tax evasion. Other crimes as heinous or worse generally either are magnitudes greater in scale or can’t really be abstracted in the same way we see the puzzle in murder.
A murder in Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright might as well not even involve the death of a person. The game presents murder as an interesting situation to solve. That’s why Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright does not dwell on Mia’s death. The developers know a murder mystery does not work if players start thinking about how horrible murder actually is. The game stays lighthearted with its quirky, pun-named characters and exaggerated scenarios to keep murder as a puzzle. Most successful murder mystery games make sure to maintain this distinction through one method or another. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc wants you to know how fucked up children murdering each other is, but it uses its extremity to make sure you never wallow for to long. The Return of the Obra Dinn sees players investigating a possible sixty deaths, but the scale and some interesting elements that I won’t spoil keeps the investigation staying a investigation. Many of the Ace Attorney’s series biggest cases involve murders from years gone, allowing for lots of character development without the sadness to accompany death. Murder mystery abstract the interesting mechanics of death into a puzzle and leave the serious parts behind.
So I think that’s gonna end my exploration of death in games. There’s definitely a lot more to explore about death in games both in similar categories and categories I didn’t cover at all. We saw death just mechanically in Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright, death just thematically in What Remains of Edith Finch, death both mechanically and thematically in NieR: Automata, and a full merger of death mechanics into its theme in Outer Wilds. It is interesting how What Remains of Edith Finch focuses so much on death as a personal experience, while NieR: Automata and Outer Wilds show how sharing our experiences can help us cope. Even in the little Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright does talk on death it shows Phoenix and Maya getting through it by helping each other out: very plainly in Phoenix helping Maya defend her innocence. I don’t think mechanics are the reason What Remains of Edith Finch takes such a different stance; it more likely results from the time distance. NieR: Automata and Outer Wilds concern themselves with the moments prior to death, while Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright deals with the moments right after. What Remains of Edith Finch deals with death over generations of people.
“Don’t sit so close to the TV. It’ll make you cruel.” Beatrice Horseman utters this line to child BoJack Horseman during the episode “Brand New Couch” in BoJack Horseman. This line intrigued and baffled me upon my rewatch of the show. The line subverts expectations. We’ve all heard some variant of “don’t watch so much TV; it’ll hurt your eyesight.” Regardless of how true any variant of that sentiment is; Beatrice subverting the expectation of actual advice gives some flavor to her poor parenting. What did Beatrice actually mean, and on a grander scale, what did the creators actually mean when they included this line in BoJack Horseman?
Let’s explore the line in the context of the individual scene. BoJack initially does not sit so close to the television set. When his parents start fighting, he inches himself closer to try and escape that reality. In this way, the line could be Beatrice’s way of saying that he needs his parents inclusion to lead a kind life. Obviously BoJack’s parents scarred him immensely, but from Beatrice’s point of view, she’s doing the best she can. She doesn’t want BoJack growing up taught to be human through the corrupted lens of television, but that’s exactly what happens. She later ends up putting massive expectations on BoJack and subsequently compliments her own parenting. This furthers the idea that she thinks she’s a good parent, despite that not at all being the case. BoJack was stuck between a rock and hard place.
BoJack Horseman shows how bad only perceiving the world through television is through the titular character. In the episode “Xerox of a Xerox,” BoJack describes how his how life is an acting job where he models his behavior off of the people he saw on television. This claim is in regards to the “old” BoJack who committed many, many heinous acts during and before the coarse of the show. That BoJack was extremely cruel, and later in the episode he rightfully faces some consequences for his treatment of women. We still see “new” BoJack make mistakes and do bad things, but the scale is incomparable. The “new” BoJack is one built on a foundation of his own life events viewed through therapy. He acts decidedly less cruel, and he is finally able to start facing consequences of his action and becoming a better person. He’s not finished facing the consequences of his action at the end of the show, and for what he’s done, he’ll likely never finish. Despite “new” BoJack building his foundation on his own horrible actions, learning from his mistakes made him a better person than only learning lessons through television.
BoJack Horseman‘s fifth season takes a very meta look at how people use television to justify their own cruelty. Season 5 sees the cast filming the in-universe show “Philbert.” The show takes place at BoJack’s house, sees BoJack playing the titular character, sees the titular character have many of the same traits and perform many of the same horrifying acts that BoJack himself has and does. This snowballs into BoJack nearly choking his co-star Gina to death when he cannot separate the show from reality. “Philbert” is a not-so-subtle metaphor for BoJack Horseman itself. The creators realized that people might misconstrue the show as justifying BoJack’s actions and behaviors because of the pain they cause him. In the episode “Head in the Clouds,” we see BoJack do exactly that but with “Philbert.” During the premiere, BoJack states “that’s what this show says […] ‘We’re all terrible, so, therefore, we’re all okay.'” Diane Nguyen rightfully outrages over this and demands the staff pull the show. She worries that a show she wrote for will let “assholes rationalize their own awful behavior.” BoJack Horseman needs to be so explicit about itself because the creators know how TV affects people. People should not mold their behavior off of BoJack. Viewers relate to BoJack’s character because he is sympathetic, but we can never forget he’s a horrible person who’s done and continues to horrible things. The main point of BoJack Horseman isn’t to “watch it and feel okay” as Diane says about “Philbert.” The main point is to learn that feeling bad over what one has done is not facing consequences or doing better, and feeling bad does not make up for what one did. BoJack Horseman shows with clarity how television can make people worse through viewers modeling their own behavior off of flawed characters.
We’ve sat close to the TV and became cruel, but what if we could sit even closer? Beatrice’s line mentions closeness as a variable and not as a binary “watch.” BoJack continues to sit closer and closer to the TV as times marches on until he becomes the star of the in-universe show “Horsin’ Around.” BoJack’s cruelty exponentially increases once he enters the TV. BoJack Horseman declares that the television and film industry create cruel people.
Through many flashbacks, we see BoJack transform from a naive, jolly, stand-up comedian into his current character through the show. Throughout his time in the industry, people above him task him with cruelty in order to maintain his job and advance in the world. Higher-ups ask BoJack to remain on “Horsin’ Around” twice: for Herb and Sharona. The executives coerce BoJack into believing that not quitting the show is the best option through a “trolley problem” style scenario. They basically make BoJack chose between one person getting fired or everyone. They make BoJack do horrible things under the guise of what is right. BoJack wouldn’t find out until the episode “Angela” that he actually held the power to keep Herb on the show and that the threat of canceling everything was a lie. This situation arises again during the filming of the in-universe movie “Secretariat.” When Lenny Turtletaub fires Kelsey Jannings for BoJack’s mistake, BoJack has already internalized his own inability to change anything and sadly accepts it. He believes he had no power in the situation, so he does nothing to change it. Every opportunity BoJack attempts to take to make things right after he benefits from the success of “Secretariat” ends up going wrong because of the situations the industry puts him in. BoJack still is responsible for these terrible things he did, but they are a direct result of the industry forcing people commit dreadful actions to succeed. This power also works both ways, as we see through Vance Waggoner’s character in “BoJack the Feminist.” Once the industry gives someone enough power, they get to do whatever they want with no repercussions. The industry doesn’t vet horrible people out; it normalizes their behavior. People like Vance get to do horrible things and remain big stars because they bring in money, and everyone else learns what he does is okay even if it’s not. These two forces of making people treat others heinously to succeed and not holding people accountable for their horrendous actions results in the industry creating cruel people.
“Don’t sit so close to the TV. It’ll make you cruel.” Season 2 Episode 1, BoJack Horseman understood it’s entire premise and delivered it succinctly in one line. I don’t think the show fully realized the weight of this line until it started sculpting the finishing touches on its thematic presentation in the latter seasons. The idea is a bit paradoxical: a television show trying to teach you to not model yourself after television. I don’t think anyone can really make a show that vehemently distastes the idea of its own medium teaching messages. We see, in the show, many times people benefit from watching television, such as Diane saying that watching “Horsin’ Around” every week “helped [her] survive” in the episode “That Went Well.” Television can teach people things and provide good for their lives. Television does not replace for a person’s character, but the right show can supplement the right person. It’s up to us to understand that television is television.
NieR: Automata‘s many endings define the game. One of the first things I heard about the game was just how many joke endings there are. There are 21 to be exact, although joke might be a bit of a misnomer. NieR: Automata gives each of it’s endings a letter A through Z with endings F-Z being the joke ones. Joke is a bit of a misnomer though. Often time people refer to them as “bad endings” which I find to be even worse. If you read the text from the “[L]one wolf” end (I’ll post all of it later don’t worry), you’ll see that the ending is definitely not bad, but the ending does josh around a bit. The game does treat the endings differently than the others. Endings A and B play the credits like you expect, and endings C and D play the credits scrolling the opposite direction to foreshadow that ending E has the credits act as a shoot ’em up. Endings F-Z play through part of the credits at lightning speed and then return you to your prior save just with your ending achieved. NieR: Automata‘s multiple endings aren’t just there for laughs, they’re crucial to the themes of the game.
Ending E adds details that turn “[L]one wolf” (ending L) and other endings into the good endings. Ending E deserves a whole novel written about it, but I’ll just go over the key points. Ending E acts as the “true” final ending to the game. You need to play the game three times at least to get the ending, and you need to replay the ending of the last chapter once more to attempt it. I’ve heard all Yoko Taro games are kinda cyclical. Unfortunately I haven’t played the Drakengaurd series, NieR RepliCant, or NieR Gestalt yet, so I’m only going to go off of NieR: Automata. The timeline for NieR: Automata is kinda strange since you basically play the beginning twice and they kinda merge together. Then, you play endings C and D and those kind of merge together to form ending E. I know people will say that ending E canonically comes after ending D because that’s the only way it makes sense, but I kind of like to think the ending E canonically comes after both endings. The game is all about cycles it makes sense that the whole game just happens twice. The cycle of 2B killing 9S and to a greater extent the cycle of 2 killing 9 is a huge motif in NieR: Automata and what I’ve read about it’s companion work (there’s even 2P killing 9S in Final Fantasy XIV if I’m not mistaken). The machine’s mimicry of humanity shows the cycle of growth and failure. Eve and 9S show love and loss. The android and machine war is a manufactured conflict on both sides which is an endless cycle of both sides trying to almost win. Heck, playing the game is a cycle of playing and replaying the game. Ending E talks about this extremely on the nose citing life is all about the struggle in the cycle of “life and death.”
Ending E revives all the main characters and restores their memories. This lets them continue their story, and while the events of the game definitely happen, Pod 152 questions if nothing will change. Will 2B still kill 9S again? If 2B dies, would 9S not just go on another murderous rampage? It seems extremely likely that the cycles destine our cast to the fate they’ve lived out so many times. Pod 042 states that “a possibility of a different future also exists. A future is not given to you. It is something you must take for yourself.” This is a great ending as it leads the players with a sense of hope that things will get better because we believe in our characters. The game also didn’t need to give us this ending to give us this ending. Throughout the game, the players constantly break the cycle to achieve new futures, and that’s what endings F-Z are.
Endings F-Z let players break the cycle of the game and take their future into their own hands. Plenty of endings in endings F-Z aren’t happy at all. In “head[Y] battle,” a bunch of Emil clones succumb to nihilism and send the remains of earth through an “uncaring” universe. This definitely is not happy. That’s what happens when you take the future into your own hands. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, and it’s all your fault. There’s plenty of other satisfying endings to chose from. In “break ti[M]e,” A2 finally gets “a sense of peace and fulfillment” which I love for her. Machines do destroy Pascal’s village from her lack of help, but we know this was result no matter what. I will say that choosing to spare Pascal rather than erase his memories or kill him shortly after does amount to a better ending assuming Pascal dies in ending M, but you don’t know for sure that he does. I can pick apart every single one of endings F-Z, but let’s focus on the happiest one.
“Fed up, 2B left the camp to its fate and decided to…go fishing? Yeah that’s it! Fishing! With a smile on her face, she packed up and headed for the coast. Ten years later, 2B would find herself hunted by both machine lifeforms and YoRHa assassins—a life she seemed to enjoy more than her previous one.” While some people might notice the lack of 9S in this ending as a bad one, I think that’s really missing the point entirely. Why wouldn’t 2B be much happier with a life where she’s not forced to constantly kill 9S. I would love to see 9S, 2B, and A2 all live happily ever after as bestest of friends too, but I also don’t think that being a real ending would feel satisfying at all. The open ended nature of ending E perfectly lets me live out this fantasy in a satisfying way, while ending L actually gives me a more nuanced happy ending to appreciate. I like to not that 10 years in the future, YoRHa is still around. Obviously this seems impossible as the organization is created to fail from the start and is gone halfway through the game, so how did this happen? I imagine 9S managed to save everyone since he wasn’t critically focused on 2B after her abandonment. Obviously I don’t like YoRHa, it’s very clearly fascist and the game utilizes it’s existence well to criticize fascism. I think the existence of YoRHa already moves it away since it can’t exist 10 years in the future and still be fascist. The truth about YoRHa is reveal and a new future must’ve been grabbed for itself, one that isn’t fascist (because that’s why it was self destructive int he first place). Instead of YoRHa as an organization, It’s likely that 9S specifically is hunting down 2B. YoRHa actively avoids hunting down A2, so it doesn’t make much sense that they’d do it for 2B. There is a sidequest where you hunt down some YoRHa deserters, but I think this is only because 2B is seen as capable enough, and she had nothing more pressing. It’s nice to imagine that 6O and 21O could go onto fulfill their desires in this ending. 9S and 2B playing cat and mouse to make both of their lives happier breaks their cycle and gives them new purpose. Maybe they’d even get to make up one day; maybe 9S just wants her home. 2B, 9S, and the resistance all know of Pascal and hopefully can work on ending the cycle of growth and failure of machines since Pascal can learn from his mistakes. “[L]one wolf” also features fishing. Who doesn’t love fishing? 2B deserves to smile. “[L]one wolf” breaks the cycle that defines the main game, confirms the happiness of 2B, and leaves open ended hope for the other characters.
Okay so I should go into the conclusion here, but, like, let’s talk about ending K. Perhaps “aji wo [K]uta” is NieR: Automata‘s most infamous ending. It’s really the only one that you get told to do in the game. You eat the mackerel, just like you’re told, and then you die. Having consumed the mackerel, it didn’t take long for the android’s bodily fluids to congeal. Muscle rigidity and paralysis soon followed.” “It was good, thought,” the android thought as consciousness faded. “Exquisite even. No wonder humans used to eat them…” NieR: Automata builds it’s themes from nihilism. A lot of people die meaninglessly, feeling horrible for nothing. It’s really refreshing that you can let the main character die having the best experience of their life. It’s definitely not the happiest ending there is, but it’s far from the unhappiest.
Endings F-Z perfectly exemplify NieR: Automata‘s theme of seizing hold of your own destiny. The player can break free from the cycle of the game at many points throughout the narrative to achieve endings of wild variations. There’s many ways for our cast to achieve happiness through their own actions. I have faith that they did after ending E.
Lots of dialogue, massive compendiums, and anime characters. These were the ingredients chosen to make the perfect visual novel. But Vanillaware accidentally added an extra ingredient to the concoction — an entire RTS.
I’m super glad 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is starting to gain so much popularity compared to it’s launch. I purchased it shortly after release because it’s Vanillaware, and the game amazed me. The game garnered little coverage, and that surprised me. Over four months later, it’s cemented itself as the AAA hidden gem of 2020. As I observed people discussing the game, I noticed a weird idiosyncrasy of the discussion. People seem to majorly refer to the game as a visual novel, generally as a negative or warning sign. This is bizarre to me because I didn’t think once that I was playing a visual novel while playing it. I understand why people are averse to visual novels; we all have game genres we don’t like. Visual novels have this stigma that you spend 100 hours reading dialogue, and then you finish your first route and have to play the others. I’m sure this is true of some, but it’s pretty far off from describing the genre as a whole. I am curious why so many people describe it as a visual novel, when I, simply, did not though. I won’t deny that visual novels make up some of the DNA of the game, but I don’t think the discussion ends there. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim‘s genre is an exceedingly interesting topic that deserves to be explored.
Genres are both meaningless and extremely essential to the way we engage with media. Before we even start to ascribe a genre from 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, we need a strong understanding of what genre is. Genre might be a French word, meaning kind or sort, but it’s origin lies in ancient Greek media in the form of comedy and tragedy. These two genres dictated largely how certain works were performed and defined audience expectations going in. You didn’t see a tragedy unless you were ready for the main character to die. This is probably the earliest genre convention. Today, genre is a lot gooier than just comedy and tragedy. The French meaning really adds character to the concept. Genre is how we identify what media is what and lets us put them into easily understood categories. Genre doesn’t technically impact a work at all anymore. It might’ve dictated the tone you read a poem in ancient Greece, but today generally we ascribe genre from the work itself rather than prescribe it. An artist might start their work looking to work in or explore a genre, but it’s ultimately up to those who consume the work to decide. Genre dictates how people have interacted and will interact with the work.
Genre varies wildly for different media. Movies generally have their genres either touch on the emotions they cause (drama, comedy) or the themes they explore (romance, science fiction). Music is some mix between the instrumentation, themes, and sound: Pop-punk might be similar to ska without the horns, punk rock differentiates itself from pop-punk with it’s coarser sounds, and classic rock generally isn’t as openly rebellious as punk rock. For video games, genres are almost exclusively descriptions of gameplay. This is likely because gameplay is the biggest factor of someone wanting to play a game. You might be able to append some non-gameplay genres onto games, but that’s not the defining genre. For example, people call Persona 3 a tragedy (I haven’t finished the game myself), but this distinction is only ever important once you’ve gone past it’s other genres like Japanese role-playing game and social sim. No one plays Persona 3 because it’s a tragedy; they play it because it’s a social sim JRPG hybrid. Game genres often have terrible names because of this. Role-playing game is the prime example because a lot RPGs don’t involve any role playing. The genre name comes from the mathematical systems behind Dungeons & Dragon, a table-top RPG. This also results in a lot of genres that are just named after the games that did them first: Metroidvania, Soulslike, Rougelike. Imagine going into the next Marvel movie and calling it an Iron Manlike. If there are genres added onto the gameplay, generally used when having an in-genre discussion, usually people would ascribe world-building genres like fantasy and science fiction before any other kind. When it comes to video game genres, gameplay is first and foremost the most important factor.
Genre conventions are the defining characteristics of a genre. While sometimes you can just feel a genre is there and that’s good enough, a genre convention serves as a good way to communicate why a work fits into a genre. Genre conventions are very important for later, so I need to define them here. A work doesn’t have to apply all it’s genre conventions in order to fit into a genre; a work might even purposefully go against conventions to deconstruct the work or just to explore new territory.
If we were to look at the genre conventions of a first-person shooter, the first aspects you probably would define would be that it’s in first-person perspective and that you shoot things. There can still be more genre conventions than that though. It’s extremely common for first-person shooters to be about war: from Wolfenstein 3D to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. How far away from the genre conventions of an FPS is something still an FPS. Portal 2 is the quintessential example of a FPS that you might not call an FPS. In Portal 2, Chell’s gun shoots portals and is used to solve puzzles. There’s still conflict and enemies you need to defeat, but the large focus isn’t on that.I would describe Portal 2 as a puzzle game first, and a first-person shooter second. You’ll still need the skills of aiming and twitch reflexes that an FPS demands of you to solve puzzles, but it’s significantly downplayed. Portal 2 might not even come up in a discussion about the greatest first-person shooters because FPS isn’t the main genre someone ascribes from the game. On the contrary, Splatoon often gets brought up when discussing first-person shooters despite being in third person. Third-person shooter is a genre in and of itself, but Splatoon tends to contain many more genre conventions of first-person shooters than third-person ones, despite it’s perspective. Funnily enough, people call Splatoon‘s single-player mode a Mario Galaxyesque despite it not being a platformer or containing any of the space and gravity themes. I would tend to agree with that description, although Mario Galaxyesque might be a long way from calling itself a full-fledged genre. A true contrarian might call Pokémon Snap an FPS because you do shoot photographs in first person, but it contains none of the conflicts (excluding throwing poison gas at innocent Pokémon) or war that defines the FPS genre. Genre conventions help us understand media, but aren’t required of a work to fit into a genre.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim contains many genres, and genre is a key theme of the game. I’m going to talk about the mechanical genres first to avoid major spoilers of the game. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim has a nice description telling of it’s genres on the official site: “Uncover the truth and delve into a 2D sidescrolling adventure featuring gorgeous art and environments. Then, battle the kaiju in fast-paced, top-down combat. Customize the Sentinels with an arsenal of mechsuit weaponry, and fight to defend humanity!”
The first section declares the game a “2D sidescrolling adventure,” which is the genre I first thought of when describing 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim. Colloquially, I would just call this an adventure game or potentially an old-school adventure game. Adventure as a genre might be poorly named due to a lot of non-adventure games involving adventuring, and the genre postdating the 1980 Atari 2600 game, Adventure. Adventure is, of course, an action-adventure game. Adventure and adventure games do stem from the same place as they are both adaptations of the text adventure genre. Do you see why game genres kinda suck I’ve said “adventure” too many times, and it’s refereed to three distinctly different genres, not sub-genres. Adventure, of course, is an adaptation of the game Colossal Cave Adventure, the first text adventure game. Adventure and text adventure were likely the same genre before Mystery House, the first graphical adventure, now adventure, game. Playing Colossal Cave Adventure inspired Roberta Williams to create Mystery House The defining of adventure as a succinct genre away from text adventure likely happened with the release of the original King’s Quest in 1984. This would define an adventure game as a game about exploring an area, solving puzzles, talking to people, and telling a story. The old-school adventure sub-genre wouldn’t emerge until a lot of adventure games ditched the 2D, side-scrolling aspect that defined adventure games previously. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim definitively fits the genre conventions of an old-school adventure game. It lets you explore an, albeit small, world through 2D, side-scrolling movement. It contains puzzles, albeit light on them. You do spend a lot of time talking to people, and the game tells a big story. It’s certainly closer to the genre-convention-ideal adventure game than, say, Kentucky Route Zero, with it’s singular puzzle. Kentucky Route Zero is lauded as one of the adventure game greats despite it’s distance from the puzzle solving aspect. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim adheres to the conventions of an old-school adventure game.
Visual Novels also stem from text adventures. In the same vein of Mystery House, Visual Novels add visuals to text adventure to then form an entirely new genre. Visual Novels generally feature a large amount of text consisting of mostly dialogue. If there’s any player agency it’s usually with players making choices that change what text will appear. This commonly takes the form of dialogue choices that lead to branching stories with multiple endings. They’ll use portraits to display different characters in a scene over a background, and occasionally have an image that displays a specific scene not using it’s usual layout. They tend to have features such as text logs and compendium of terms. Visual novels are one of the most rigid genres because people rarely ascribe visual novel as a second or third genre. Visual Novel genre hybrids become increasing popular, with games like 999 adding in escape-room segments, but, generally, the other genre has to be less than half of the games gameplay content. You wouldn’t see someone describe Yakuza 0 or Final Fantasy VI as a visual novel despite their large amount of dialogue-based text. The Ace Attorney series probably comes closest with it being a mystery, puzzle, adventure, visual novel. I think Ace Attorney games ascribe visual novel despite having a large amount of other elements because it weaves together all of its genres. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim certainly doesn’t have the look of the visual novel, but it’d be presumptuous of me to say “everyone is wrong, and it is not a visual novel.” The DNA of visual novels and old-school adventure games are the same, Colossal Cave Adventure. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim definitely airs closer to visual novels than most adventure games. If I were to order a list of genres I describe 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim as, visual novel might clock in at around 4th due to the large overlap with adventure game. I don’t need to tell someone it’s a visual novel if I tell them it’s an adventure game. It doesn’t aid my communication around the game in the slightest. If someone were to call 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim a visual novel, I just don’t think it’d be as apt of a description. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is more an old-school adventure game than a visual novel, even if it is both.
The second half of the description from earlier states “Then, battle the kaiju in fast-paced, top-down combat. Customize the Sentinels with an arsenal of mechsuit weaponry, and fight to defend humanity!” 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim has three main modes, but one is just a compendium (a notable element of a visual novel I failed to mention prior). Your main gameplay time is split between the adventure game mode, and an real-time strategy game mode. I’ve never really played a real-time strategy game other than the Pikmin series, and I’m pretty terrible at Pikmin. I had major reservations when it came to starting 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim because of this. Playing 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim didn’t feel like playing an RTS, however; it felt like a Fire Emblem game, a tactical role-playing game. It features a lot of genre conventions of real-time strategy games. The enemies move in large swarms of units in real time. The enemies have production factories. You can build various buildings. Very specifically, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim feels like a tower defense game, a sub-genre of RTS. The main goal of every mission is simply defend this tower against all enemies or for two minutes. So why does 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim feel like tactical role-playing game. Part of it is right there in the description: “Customize the Sentinels.” The resource management feeds directly into an RPG system. The main resource you get essentially serves as experience points you can use to buy different abilities, just like in Dungeons & Dragons. The game notably does not feature any role playing, but that’s just TRPG being yet another horribly named game genre. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim also has the player controller a few very powerful units that are all notable characters rather than unnamed grunts. TRPG and RTS games are sort of adjacent, as one might describe them as sub-genres of a larger “strategy” genre. The larger more conceptual game genres generally aren’t super useful for communicating about games, but it might be the best way to describe 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim‘s mech combat section: not as apt as a mix of a TRPG and an RTS but perhaps more eloquent. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim combines elements from both tactical role playing games and real time strategy games to define it’s gameplay.
Now, I actually skipped over a section of the genre description on the site: “Vanillaware, the storytellers behind Odin Sphere and Dragon’s Crown, craft a sci-fi mystery epic spanning thirteen intertwining stories.” From here on out, I’m not holding back spoilers relating to the story since the game’s themes are going to come up; you have been warned. First and foremost, Vanillaware decided to prescribe not gameplay genres but world building, atmospheric, and story-structural ones. I will say mystery is both gameplay genre and an atmospheric/story-structural one, but in this case mystery does not describe it’s gameplay. I think this description does a significantly better job at describing the game than the gameplay descriptors do. If I were to recommend 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim to someone (outside of recommending it to everyone on quality alone), I would likely chose someone who’s a fan of science fiction or mystery. Science fiction is the main element of this game, not any piece of gameplay. Generally my recommendations sound something like this: “play this game it’s the most Pepe Sylvia game ever.” Pepe Sylvia, of course, references the iconic scene from It’s Always Sunny in Philidelphia. The game presents it’s mind-twisting mystery through the use of a significantly large amount of science fiction tropes. If you aren’t ready to pull out the cork board and string or can’t get behind time travel, multiple dimensions, mechs, kaiju, time loops, androids, body swapping, what have you, then maybe it isn’t the game for you. The strategy segment is pretty easy even on the highest difficulty, and none of the puzzles left me stumped for that long. The largest barrier to entry and what defines this game is the elements of the story it tells, not it’s gameplay. This makes perfect sense; the game’s story took six years to write. I imagine that’s a record for video games. Anyone going in needs to prepare to watch an epic unfold. It’s much more an epic than a lot of longer visual novels, since those tend to have deep exploration of characters rather than grandiose stories.Gameplay genres fail to categorize 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim the same way other genres do.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim doesn’t just preside in the science fiction genre; it’s a direct commentary on it. The story of 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim has an interesting complexity curve. The game starts off really complex at the start, growing as you move through the first couple of segments with each character. At some point, the pieces start falling into place and the complexity plateaus. Finally, everything starts coming together and the rapidly declines down to simplicity. The overall plot is much simpler than the sum of it’s part. This is because there’s many incorrect assumptions made early in the narrative both from unreliable narrator and our own minds: Ei Sekigahara claims to be from another dimension, Nenji Ogata thinks he’s in time loop, Yuki Takamiya is playing Kogoro Aketchi for a seemingly government organization. The characters and players use the science fiction media we’re accustomed to to make sense of an increasingly complex world. This is probably shown most explicitly through Natsuno Minami’s evocation of Men in Black and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (What’s up with this title Spielberg? I didn’t need an abbreviation and the unabbreviated form together, just pick one). 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim challenges us to not rely on science fiction. Renya Gouto figures out exactly what’s going on with meticulous research and notes. How many times has something in the real world been called “Skynet.” The human tendency to understand our increasingly complex world through science fiction hurts people. Calling Google “Skynet” both doesn’t allow us to understand and think critically about what Google actually does and the harm it causes, and it lets us brush off extremely complex topics in hopes it’ll go away. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim demands we see the world how it is in order to actually face the extreme adversity we endure.
No character in 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim quiet understands it’s themes like 426. We see 426 abuse human’s reliance on media to understand our own world through. He tricks Megumi Yakushiji into injecting code into our cast under the guise of magic and witches. We see this as a science fiction take on a magical girl story at first, but even from the get go it’s increasingly clear something is up. It’s likely Megumi would’ve done the same thing if she had been told the truth since it’s for Juro’s sake, but the disguise of information makes it easier for her to digest and understand. She has a lot of hesitance every time she shoots someone, and I imagine it’d be even more if she couldn’t cloud her judgement under the guise of magic. 426 also shows Juro Kurabe his own memories through video tapes pretending that they are science fiction movies. Juro has an easier time swallowing 426’s memories when they’re presented as great works of science fiction rather than reality. 426 isn’t a villain though; in fact, he’s the character who saves the day. This opens up a lot of interesting readings regarding the game’s theme. You could fully support my previous claim about media clouding our judgement of the real world and 426’s propaganda further proves it, but I’d argue the game’s presenting a more nuanced theme.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim says it’s okay for us to rely on media to understand our world, as long as it doesn’t end there. The time travel concept defining the early part of the game might’ve just been a farce, but hey those andriods, mechs, and kaiju are still androids, mechs, and kaiju. The world gets more and more complex and hard to understand every day. There’s no way around using science fiction to clear our understandings of things. Once we do that though, the fight isn’t over. We need to understand what separates fiction from reality: take notes and do the research. Science fiction is a great way to keep us emotionally grounded in times when we have no idea what’s going on. We just have to use it to our advantage to aid our understanding of things instead of letting it be our only understanding of things.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is a game about science fiction. It doesn’t matter if it’s wrong or right to call it a visual novel; that’s not important. If you’re recommending someone play 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, make sure science fiction comes first. People ascribe genres from media, but in this case I think we should listen to developers. I understand the game just like how Vanillaware prescribes it, and I think this understanding does the game more justice.
Most media is trash. I don’t mean this in the pretentious way I might in other context. If you asked me to recall every video game I played in the last year, I probably couldn’t tell you. I probably would fair even worse at shows, movies, youtube videos, articles, music, any medium really. The only exception is anime. Anime isn’t special on its own. In fact, I probably watch, on average, worse quality anime than I do interact with any other medium. What is special is MyAnimeList. MyAnimeList forces me to engage critically with every anime I see.
First off, let me test my theory. I have no way to see if I’m correct about every anime I’ve seen in 2020, but I do have a good way to check anime I’ve seen that aired in 2020 using MyAnimeList (MyAnimeList can store your personal completion dates, but I fail to log this every time). So here’s a list of the 2020 anime I remember watching off the top of my head.
Ahiru No Sora
Haikyuu!! To The Top (Parts 1 and 2)
Toilet Bound Hanako
God of High School
Tower of God
Keep Your Hands off Eizouken!!
Adachi and Shimamura
If My Favorite Pop Idol Made it to the Boudokan, I Would Die
Smile Down the Runway
Aggretsuko Season 3
My Hero Academia Season 4
My Next Life as a Villainous: All Routes Lead to Doom
Sing Yesterday to You
Millionaire Detective: Balance Unlimited
I actually surprised myself and only forgot (the possibly most horrible one to forget) Hulaing Babies Aratame: Staying Babies. The fact that, off the top of my head, I can list every single full length television anime I saw amazes me, and that’s 22 shows. I don’t even like some of the shows at all. Some of the titles are actually incorrect (such as me misspelling Villainess), and I’ll leave the mistakes there for posterity. If you ask me to name video games I didn’t like that I played in 2020 or any year, I’d have a hard time giving any answer. I did this exercise for video games and animated western shows in the past (and anime, but the results were same and I had about half the entries at the time). I forgot several video games I really liked that came out this year, like Super Crush KO and Monster Train, until I noticed them later and remembered. I forgot that She-Ra and the Princesses of Power and BoJack Horseman had finales this year until I was reminded.
MyAnimeList’s score feature leads to me thinking about the quality of each show I watch. MyAnimeList doesn’t demand anything from you, much less require a score. It does have features to log a lot of information including how many episodes you watched, start and end watch dates, rewatch value, storage medium, a totally personal tag and comment system, and more. The score, status, and episode count are the only ones they do show on the main page of any anime, with the user having to click edit details for more.
Determining a score makes me think critically about the anime I watch both while watching and after completion. It’s not a big thing, I think a lot of people rate things after they finish them. I probably could give you a score for some video games I’ve played. MyAnimeList immortalizing the score I chose directly after finishing the show makes committing to a score much harder. I do occasionally change it later if I come to new conclusions or realizations, but that generally only applies to anime I would think about a lot regardless. To look at a show I didn’t like, Sing “Yesterday” for Me (incorrectly written as Sing Yesterday to You above) would likely have received a middling 6/10 if I didn’t score anime using MyAnimeList. The show has it’s good and bad points, and I could manage to actually watch all of it. I didn’t take it in as trash to be thrown away, but a work to be engaged with critically. I ended up giving it a 4/10: generally signifying a show that has great faults but is pretty watchable and might have notable positive aspects according to my personal rating system. I thought the large focus on relationships between minors and adults feels creepy, and while the show doesn’t condone them, it still features them prominently in a “who will they end up with” kind of way. If I didn’t care about the score, I wouldn’t even have remembered my criticism at all. I treat all anime as important works for me to engage with rather than trash to quell my boredom.
I also just think the act of cementing the shows I’ve watched works wonders itself. There’s something about the process of finishing a show, looking it up, and clicking completed that’s satisfying and memorable. The fact that I can even reference a complete list is nice because I might start thinking about a show that’s escaped my mind again. That thing will never happen with a game that I forgot and no one mentions. For example, the game … yeah I can’t really bring up an example of something I’ve forgotten. I can bring up that when I was thinking about shows not from 2020 that I watched in the past year, Humanity Has Declined is a show that I didn’t remember off the top of my head, but I do like that show and think it has a lot of value in remembering it. I obviously couldn’t name all 400+ entries that exist on my list off the top of my head, I do wonder how close I could get, but it’d probably be quiet the exercise. Scrolling through the list almost every entry feels vividly familiar. I can probably bring up plot points and critical analysis for a lot of the shows I watched: even ones from five years ago. I struggled talking about some of my favorite games of all time simply because I couldn’t remember them at all.
I think all media could benefit from having a MyAnimeList equivalent. I want to engage with the media I consume critically. It’s more interesting and impactful that way. It might be hard for media you’re meant to consume in more of a trash way. I wouldn’t dare log and rate every single tweet I’ve ever read. The thought of going backwards in time and even attempting to remember the thousands of games I’ve played is daunting. I’m starting smaller. I created a excel sheet to keep track of the video games I’ve played this year. I did this in worse form in 2019, and I actually end up fondly regarding a large amount of games I played in 2019 (I even made a game award show for fun that year). I simply forgot to do it in 2020 until it was too late, and I think I was worse off for it. Hopefully I’ll keep up the games list this year, and, maybe, I’ll be able the idea even further to include more media. I’m grateful I made my MyAnimeList way back in 2014 because my critical analysis skills have benefited because of it.
In August 1986, Nintendo would release Metroid for Famicom Disc System in Japan and for the PlayerChoice-10 Arcade machine in North America. Metroid would go onto to be known as the first video game featuring a female protagonist. I would go onto to say this fact is wrong right now. The release of Ms. Pac-Man on February 3rd, 1982 predates Samus’s appearance by over 4 years. I don’t know if Ms. Pac-Man is the first female video game protagonist, but I do know that the first human female playable character is Kissy from Baraduke from 1985. Despite historical inaccuracies, Metroid likely is the first video game that’s a work of feminist literature.
Metroid is an important but flawed feminist work. Metroid analysis has been done to death, but it’s important to the point I’ll eventually make about Super Smash Bros. melee to go over some key points. In Metroid, Samus’s reveal at the end to be a woman subverted many 1980s players expectation that the cool armor suit person was a man. The manual for the NES version of Metroid explicitly states Samus is a man. This reveal causes players to think about all characters they play as and how their assumptions of their genders might be wrong. Who’s to say the square from Adventure wasn’t a girl? This reveal makes Metroid have a criticism on the gender expectations of video game characters. Metroid isn’t without it’s flaws though. The fact that only players who beat the game learn Samus is a girl means that the amount of players who actually learn of this reveal was small compared to people who played the game. This is especially true as Metroid is a hard game and many people likely played it either at an arcade or through renting the NES cart. Metroid also “rewards” players who complete the game quickly with having Samus wear less and less clothes. While I do enjoy small bonuses to reward speedrunners, I don’t enjoy how this objectified Samus. This taints the reveal changing it from ground breaking to extremely flawed.
Super Smash Brothers Melee does what Metroid wanted to do but better. Samus is, of course, a playable character in Super Smash Bros. Melee. Many people who played Super Smash Bros. Melee did not know Samus was a girl. This includes myself. Super Smash Bros. Melee has a single-player, event mode. Event 15 is called Girl Power. In this event, you fight Samus, Peach, and Zelda. When I played this event, I wondered why Samus was in this group. I then realized that Samus must be a girl, and it made me think critically about the genders of all characters: perhaps even my own. This reveal works significantly better than Metroid’s reveal because it isn’t even a reveal, and there’s no objectification of Samus. Super Smash Bros Melee demands you think Samus being a girl is expected. Anyone unknowing of this fact still gets the impact of the original Metroid reveal, but the game just moves on. This event match is one of the most memorable and difficult ones, up there with along with Space Travelers and Time for a Check-up (featuring Samus and Peach respectively).
This should be the end of the discussion. Super Smash Bros. Melee is better than Metroid at being Metroid. Super Smash Bros. as a series, including Melee, definitely has a female representation problem. The rest of this post is rambling about female representation in Smash and is not thought out at all. Proceed with caution.
This chart shows the representation of characters in the Super Smash Bros games. As you can see, there’s a significantly large bias towards male characters. First lets go over the problems with this chart. I counted Pikachu as male until Ultimate despite that Pikachu was only given gender differences between Melee and Brawl. I counted Pichu in Ultimate as unidentified even thougn there is an explicit female costume because the others aren’t explicitly male, it means it’s not both. I counted the three playable pokemon and not the Pokemon Trainer themselves who were given a female alt. I counted Miis as both despite technically your Mii being able to be non-binary because Nintendo puts Miis into strict binaries as seen in Tomodachi Life. In fact, of all the genderless and unidentified characters, none are non-binary and almost all are pokemon (Duck Hunt and Dark Samus are the exceptions). I counted both R.O.B. and Megaman as male. I also likely miscounted or messed something up, so I’m glad you really can’t tell the exact numbers from this graph.
The problem with male over representation in Super Smash Bros is interesting because it both sucks and says that the video game industry as a whole. Since Super Smash Bros. draws it’s roster from gaming’s most iconic characters, it means gaming as a whole needs more iconic women. Super Smash Bros Brawl added 18 new characters and only one was female. This is significantly fewer than Super Smash Bros. 64 adding 12 characters with only one female rep. They were also both the same character: different versions of Samus. In fact, it wasn’t until Smash 4 that we got a female character that wasn’t Samus, Zelda, or Peach (not counting Nana from Ice Climbers). They definitely have been getting better about female reps, with many characters having alts like Wii Fit Trainer, Inkling, and Robin for both male and female versions. Smash Ultimate adding 3 out of 23 female characters to newcomers is worse than Smash 4s 4 to 21. Smash Ultimate also added more exclusive male characters (10 to 7).
All this math is basically pointless because you can just tell from a glance that there’s a problem. Nintendo needs to pick better characters and video games need to offer better characters. According to various polls and heresay from around the internet, basically all of the most wanted characters to get into Smash are also men. You’ll hear names like Sora, Dante, Crash, Doom Guy, Master Chief, Ryu Hayabusa, Rayman, and Waluigi over and over and over again. There have been popular female character picks, most notable Reimu, but the popularity of characters like Shantae and Arle seem to ebb and flow with leaks rather than consistent popularity. Even the character I probably want in the most, Phoenix Wright, is not a girl. I would want Trucy Wright over Phoenix Wright, but that’s not happening unless Capcom has a Trucy Wright: Ace Attorney game they plan on making. There are plenty of female characters I desperately want in Smash such as Ayumi Tachibana from Famicom Detective Club (bring the remake to the west Nintendo) and Female Golfer from Rhythm Heaven (or any character from Rhythm Heaven, there’s plenty of good girls to choose from and we need a rep). According to this poll 2B is the fourth most popular female character in terms of Smash DLC request, and the second most popular DLC character that does suck (sorry Shantae and Dixie Kong). Put 2B in Smash Sakurai. You love NieR Automata. Who knows how many DLC characters Square Enix demanded be from their company to include Cloud in the base game. There’s already two, I would be very unsurprised if there were 3. Heck include 2B and A2 as well as echos boom Square Enix can sell 3 characters for 1 moveset.
So Super Smash Bros. needs more female reps. Super Smash Bros Melee does do something interesting with it’s event mode, and I appreciate that. Games as a whole need to step it up.
With one decade over and another one beginning (or maybe decades end on the 9 who knows), I saw a decidedly lack of Top X Games of All Time list I was met with 5 and 10 years prior. Both 2010 and 2015 were pivotal moments in the way I looked at games. 2010 was when I got my first personal computer and dived into a world of lists upon lists ranking games for various reasons. I only knew what had cool boxart on the GameStop shelves prior, and now I have a list that tells me what the 100 best games of all time were? That’s overwhelming but also taste defining as I would slowly descend and play all these “Best of All Time” games. 2015 saw the transition from high school to college and with it a much more critical lens into games. Suddenly I was in a college class where I’m tasked with comparing the themes of Atlus’s Persona 4 and Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. With five more years having passed, I’ve come to both love and hate Top X Lists, mainly stemming from dissatisfaction from The Game Awards. I ran my own game award show last year, where I boldly claimed that an award show can be interesting and make a statement. I think Top X lists can say so much and are so interesting, so I wanted to crack my hand one.
I decided that my own take would take form as a mini award show, where the 100 Excellent Games of All Time come in. I’m not claiming that these are the best or that this is some definitive ranking. This is 100 games I find excellent in some way, ranked vaguely in an order that says how much I like them. I will give each game an “Excellence in X” award, and then write a blurb that’s more in detail about the games. Every game is eligible and there’s no restriction other than I have to have played it. This isn’t even my top 100 favorite games, it’s just 100 games that are excellent. All images used in this list are taken from https://www.igdb.com. The console next to the studio is likely the first platform the game released on. If it released on a number of platforms simultaneously, it’s likely the one I actually played it on. Also spoiler warning for any game. Most shouldn’t have spoilers, but I’m sure I’ll drop a few.
100. FIFA World Cup South Africa 2010 – HB Studios (Wii)
Excellency in Sports Simulation
In the year 2010, I had never once cared about sports, despite playing Tennis for years prior. Attending someone’s birthday party gave me a collectible stickerbook for the FIFA World Cup 2010, and everything changed. I love collectible stickers and I was surprisingly good at geography, so with the fever that came over probably every South Floridian middle school class, I had to collect them all. In the process, I started to actually care. This is mostly because I accidentally predicted Spain winning over Netherlands in the finals before the tournament even began just off of pure support for underdogs. I was made fun of but never got to brag, so this is my bragging. I eventually cared so much, I bought the game and played it a whole bunch. Finally I understood why people played sports game; it’s because they’re fun.
99. Sneak King – Blitz Games (Xbox)
Excellency in Bad Games
Everyone knows The Room and the joys of bad movies. The joy of playing bad video games is something that escape most people. To play Sneak King, you have to manage to find a copy and an Xbox 360 and a controller and cables, and and and. This is the same for all bad games, which is wholefully sad. One day in high school, my friends and I went into GameStop with a challenge, who could buy the most games for $20. I don’t know who won or I don’t even think I got sneak king during that endeavor, but playing all of those games is some of the most fun I’ve had … ever. Sneak King stands as my favorite among all the bad games I’ve played in my life. It’s horrifying in the best ways. It plays like a stick of frozen butter. It’s disgusting corporate advertising. It’s beautiful.
98. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – Nintendo EPD Group 3 (Wii U)
Excellency in Open World Gameplay
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild truly feels like the first open world game. The open worldness doesn’t just extend to “you see that mountain, you can climb it,” but further to where the gameplay itself feels open world. The game doesn’t limit you to what you can do, if you see things and think you can do something, chances are you probably can. This obviously leads to the wild exploits you see speedrunners go through, but even on an “everyplayer” basis there’s so many times where the systems all interact in games you want them to but didn’t expect. The world isn’t just open in it’s traversal; it’s open in it’s interactions.
97. Goof Troop – Capcom (SNES)
Excellency in Bonding
Goof Troop is an extraordinarily curious game where it could be said that it’s Capcom’s first Zelda games, but that’s not what makes Goof Troop good. Goof Troop lets you play with two people. You go on this adventure where you kill pirates and shovel basically every tile you can see trying to figure out how to solve these sliding block puzzles. The game utilizes the top down Zelda gameplay in a way Nintendo wouldn’t figure out for another nine years and still fail to top. Solving puzzles and doing the adventure together bonds you in a way that’s both beautiful in real life and a great adaptation of the themes the Goofy franchise holds at it’s core. The game doesn’t force you to play with two players. You can go down this adventure alone, but why would you want to.
96. Xenoblade Chronicles X – Monolith Soft (Wii U)
Excellency in Open World Design
There’s tons of open worlds I love in games, from Hyrule to Manhattan, but none have enticed me to explore just on the world alone quiet like Xenoblade Chronicles X. Planet Mira takes the center stage of the game for good reason. The game’s story and characters and gameplay are all just a means to the end of seeing this world, and you really don’t have to interact with them all at. My favorite part was wandering around to all the nodes and just seeing what’s around. There’s a beautiful sight at every corner and I genuinely wanted to see them. Mira begs to be explored
95. Astebreed – Edelweiss (Microsoft Windows)
Excellency in Shoot ’em Ups
Astebreed perfectly encapsulate the fantasy I imagine when I play a shmup. You get to be a badass mech weaving your way pixel perfectly through barrages of laser bullets as anime characters scream things you can’t understand at you. Your eyes everywhere at once and you eventually are going to mess up and have to restart again, and again, and again. The fantasy combined with the fact that I can actually play Astebreed thanks to it’s more forgiving nature (which is still massively challenging, just for the genre), make it easily one of the most excellent shoot ’em ups out there.
94. Sonic Generations – Sonic Team (PlayStation 3)
Excellency in Speed
Sonic Generations does a lot of good things, but the best thing it does is be a Sonic game. Up until Sonic Generations, Sonic games have been a barely functioning hodgepodge of greatness. Sonic Generations takes the greatness of what came before it and bundles it into the first experience that truly lives up to promise. The game has you running at sonic speeds and then there’s a button to go faster. You get to mercilessly plow through enemies as the Crush 40 fills you with adrenaline all to hammer in the idea speed is what matters and nothing should slow you down. You gotta go fast.
93. STARWHAL – Breakfall (Microsoft Windows)
Excellency in Sports Adaptions
Video Games and Sports despite being constantly pinned as polar opposite have the same intertwining DNA. Adapting sports into video games has actually been a much tougher endeavor for probably the most popular genre than a more monumental task like adapting sports into video games. To decypher that, a wide majority of sports video games simulate the experience of watching a sports game. You take a birds eye view and coach players with strategy while imploring minor technical challenges. Sports themselves overtime have become more like video games with their use of technology to eliminate the iffyness to their rules and systems. Games that play like how sports play is exceedingly rare and almost never overt. Playing Rocket League is more like the act of playing soccer than playing FIFA is, and playing Starwhal is certainly more like fencing than Red Steel 2 (not actually a fencing game) might be. Starwhal is a massively fun competitve multiplayer experience that whittles down to extremely tense defensive duels where your main weapon is your only line of defense. I’ve never fenced, but I sure feel like I understand what’s it’s like to fence much more than I understand what it’s like to play football.
I never truly understood Pac-Man. In a way, I still don’t. He’s a character in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U that throws fruit and fire hydrants and keys and the main villain in his game is a ghost named Clyde. I didn’t experience the Pac-Man fever of the 1980s; listening to Buckner and Garcia comes close but it doesn’t cut it. I don’t know why I picked up the championship edition of the arcade game that I deemed mediocre, but I’m glad it did. Pac-Man Championship Edition translates Pac-Man to the 21st century with thirty years of improvement to game juice applied in full force. The VFX, the graphics, the number rising, the sound effects, the hit pause, the everything. I still have the feel of gaining a long trail of ghosts, getting the power pellet, and devouring the whole line as it paused each ghost you hit in the most rewarding way possible. This must’ve been what playing Pac-Man in 1980 felt like.
91. Among Us – InnerSloth (Android)
Excellency in Social Games
Social Games have always been a favorite genre of mine, but they rarely if ever make their way into the video game realm. There’s good reason for this, the main gameplay is looking and listening to other players, so why do you need a screen. Among Us solves those problems. It gives you a good reason to play a video game version of a social game, and it’s not just the pandemic. The way you interact with the game world of among us controls the flow of information defining their matches. Among Us is the game world you preside in. Mastering the maps and how to abuse these systems to your advantage is why a social game should be a video game. There’s more to social games than if you body language or voice is telling, it’s how you navigate the rules of this world.
90. XCOM: Enemy Unknown – Firaxis Games (PlayStation 3)
Excellency in Tactics
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a game known for how bullshit it is that your 93% shot missed. Missing a shot in a first-person shooter isn’t only expected, but it’s insignificant. Missing a shot in XCOM means the world because the world is on the line. The tactics matter not just because aliens are invading the world, but because the characters you love and your entire save game is on the line. You can pour ten hours into building your squad up and one missed shot will not only break your heart as you see everyone you know and love die, but also leave you worse off and likely to result in your whole 30 hour game resulting in a loss. All of the systems work together in harmony in XCOM: Enemy Unknown to make the tactics at it’s core matter.
89. Pokémon Go – Niantic Labs (Android)
Excellency in Mobile Gaming
I didn’t play Pokémon Go during the summer of 2016. It didn’t work on my phone and it makes me deeply sad that I’ll never get to experience it. Two years later, my phone breaks, and I get a new one. The fad is over, and it doesn’t occur to me to download the game. Sometime later, I walked around a lot, so I guess some day I thought “hey why don’t I download it” probably because I took hour long walks between apartments when I was moving. When I got the game I was surprised at just how well it works. Not optimization mind you, it’s optimized terribly for my LG Stylo 4, but the simple gameplay of catching pokemon you see pop up while walking is immaculate. It’s really the only game I’ve ever played that really works as a mobile game. It gives me a simple task that fills me with immense joy over collecting all these creatures I’ve come to love over the years. The game didn’t need strategic battling where I’m concerned over whether or not to set up rocks or switch out because that’s not the point of Pokémon Go. It’s a mindless distraction to fill the small gaps in stimulus of every day life, it’s encouragement to explore and exercise, it’s an excuse for me to get way to excited that I can finally catch a Deerling.
88. If Found… – DREAMFEEL (Microsoft Windows)
Excellency in Visual Novel Mechanics
I’ve wanted to make a game for a long time that was essentially a visual novel where a coloring book told a story about my experiences with depression. I never managed to get the drawing right, so the project would end up getting ditched multiple times. Then I played If Found… and felt like someone else had made the game I wanted to make. It’s not the same game at all. Instead of a soothing and relaxing coloring, you destructively erase the past Kasio struggles with. It’s a polar opposite take on the same prompt, and it works so well. Visual novels have been evolving to have more interesting mechanics and interactions. This really nails it as interacting with the text IS the main interaction. It’s not escape rooms that spice up hours of reading. There’s meaning in every word you erase both before and because you erased them. If Found… mastered the merger of visual novel text and mechanics.
It’s odd that I don’t play any dating sims. I’m someone with no romantic prospects in real life who loves becoming attached to fictional characters. I loved playing match-maker in Fire Emblem Awakening, but it really isn’t the same. Monster Prom stands out among all the other dating sims I never got anywhere into because it’s multiplayer. Playing it with friends perfectly emulates the feeling of 2 am sleepovers in high school where people would shyly profess who they liked and their plans for how to woo them. The game is reminiscent of the most fun part of high school romance, and I get to experience the fun again and again with these millennia old Halloween villains. The romance between you and your partner isn’t the star in Monster Prom, but how you get there.
86. Another World – Eric Chahi (Amiga)
Excellency in Narrative Platforming
Another World is a game about failure. Narrative platformers aren’t a common kind of game because the main interactions you have with the game is failing. All you do is make mistakes over and over. The story starts with failure and even ends with only the tiniest amount of success. Once you’ve failed a lot though, you are successful. I played the game again not in full and made bounds of progress in the time it took to advance only a few screens initially. This was in class ,and I surprised my substitute TA. They claimed I was “likely the only student who ever took this class and completed this game.” That is a shame.
85. The Unfinished Swan – Giant Sparrow (PlayStation 3)
Excellency in Exploration
Painting just everything is not an uncommon theme for a game, but I don’t think any make use of the idea as well as The Unfinished Swan. It is fun to go and throw these paint balls and see the paint splatter, but the true joy is discovering what was already there. I don’t remember what the story with that swan you follow was all these years later, but the she joy of throwing a paintball, turning the camera, and seeing what was there over and over again never escaped me.
84. Ring Fit Adventure – Nintendo EDP and 1-Up Studios (Switch)
Excellency in Exercise Games
Ring Fit Adventure is the first exercise game to abuse the skinnerbox. Video games love to implement to squeeze every last dollar out of us through microtransactions, but for the first time this skinnerbox is being used for pure good, to make us healthier. The game is great the RPG mechanics work perfectly to motivate you, show your growth, and facilitate varied exercise. I go in wanting so desperately to only work on my ass, but I know I can’t defeat Dragaux unless I do core. Also it’s definitely the most exercise games. While Wii Fit Plus might occupy my favorite video game local Wuhu Island, Wuhu Island is about relaxing and is purposefully juxtaposed to the actual way you’re engaged with it. Ring Fit’s world IS exercise. The enemies are exercise equipment, the main way people expect you to do anything is through exercises, the roads are long jogging paths, Dragaux’s main objective is to be buff but, like, evil. The game envelops you with exercise and then it tells you that it’s okay if you need to stop playing after only 10 minutes. It gives you legitimately good advice through begging you for moderation. The skinnerbox is so often used to promote excess; it’s extremely refreshing to see it used in a way that’s so caring.
83. Florence – Mountains (Android)
Excellency in Interaction
Florence is a game that tells it’s story solely through your interactions with the game. The process of performing the actions the characters take connect you to the seemingly insignificant. Looking in a mirror isn’t a world shattering affair most of the time, but the moment I wiped away Florence’s frown, I felt the rumble (both figuratively and literally). Describing the plot of the game seems like a complete characterization, when I could describe how you get to paint a picture of a butterfly.
82. Injustice: Gods Among Us – NetherRealm Studioes (Wii U)
Excellency in Super Heroes
I’ve never really cared for the DC Universe other than the Master of Games episode from Teen Titans being burned into my immortal soul. The heroes just seemed boring with Batman being a rich guy and Superman being a god. When I heard Injustice was a great game and had an amazing story mode on top of that I was curious. It’s the first piece of media that handled Superman in any interesting way that I’ve seen. Not only does a nigh unbeatable God weak only to a rock work much better as a villain, but him becoming some authoritarian world dictator over a misguided sense of justice stemming from him killing his wife and unborn child just seems to make sense. Superman didn’t make a good villain because he’s unbeatable; he made a good villain because he’s Superman. Getting to see the villains and heroes jumbled based on their conformance to Superman’s ideals also was fun. Like who doesn’t want to see Joker and Batman team up because the world is just that fucked. That’s just the story, the game play is super fun too. It’s up there for the amount of time I poured into a fighting game, and I played a lot of fighting games.
81. Hades – Supergiant Games (Switch)
Excellency in Rogue-likes
I love playing games where I progress in them in tangible ways, so Rogue-likes are genres I have conflicting feelings with. I love most of them but never get very far because I don’t love them, THAT much. Hades is completely different even if I can’t even beat the second world. It’s not just that the game offers ways to buff your character offering permanence to each run. That’s great and definitely helps, but the world and characters are really what makes this one work. Time and time again I’m offered with the choice to either make fountains heal more or change the colors of the curtains, and I choose the curtains every time. The interior design factor in Hades is wildly important not just because you visit this main hub so many times, but mainly because you get to exercise any amount of control over this architecture that oppresses you so. Sure the monsters might be what kills you every time, but if the underworld just let you leave a room without slaughter you could just ignore everything and run. Arguing with Hades over the interior design isn’t just funny, but sweet victory that you can make claim to the space against the wishes and control of Hades. There’s even an entire section devoted to just basking in the horror that is the underworld you need to escape. Hades would be a good game without the interior design. Getting to pet Cerberus after each run is reward enough. The interior design aspect pushes Hades to the greatest heights the genre has seen yet.
80. The Jackbox Party Pack 5 – Jackbox Games Inc. (Microsoft Windows)
Excellency in Local Multiplayer
It’s hard to chose which Jackbox pack is the best one, but You Don’t Know Jack, Patently Stupid, and Mad Verse City are definitely in the upper echelon of Jackbox games as a whole. While Jackbox Party Pack 5 ditches the board game aesthetics of the previous entries in the series, it’s hard to divorce the packs from this representation. Opening a pack is just like dropping a box of games onto your table on game night. You take a tour from one game to the next, having a blast and laughing your ass off. There tends to be different styles of games in each pack. You Don’t Know Jack is a long running series, but it’s a genius way to tackle trivia. It’s not just about pulling a large list of facts from the back of your melon; you can know the answer and get it wrong because you couldn’t decipher the question. The best part is is that even if you don’t know the answer the game is still genuinely funny, offering value outside the trivia itch. Patently Stupid is a perfect mixture of showing off your bad drawing skills, getting creative with user generated content, and testing player’s improve skills. It acts as sort of the ultimate Jackbox game as it ties so many of their common elements into a cohesive package. Mad Verse City has rapping robots.
79. Tetris – Alexey Pajitnov (Some Computer in Russia)
Excellency in Tetris
It’s like fucking Tetris like it’s the same game over and over and it still slaps.
78. Persona 4 Arena Ultimax – Arc System Works (PlayStation 3)
Excellency in Fighting Games
Look at this game it fully captures the Persona style but also it lets you perform super sick combos and has bizarre mechanics. Jumping into a fighting game is a daunting task knowing the sheer rigidity of the genre. It’s so impressive that fighting games look so fluid in the hands of pros because how rigid they feel when I pick them up. Utilizing the familiar Persona to cloak the game in joy allows me to know it’s okay that I’m not able to beat a Mitsuru spamming A5 or whatever. The game lets you bask in the shier coolness of it’s mechanics with baseball meters and rhythm game super, and then you can watch pros play and it’s so hype. There’s also so many characters and half of them are bad clones, but who cares I love bad characters. I’m not a fighting game professional, and every one has their own favorite, but this is definitely the fighting game I’d choose to be good at.
77. Blazblue: Cross Tag Battle – Arc System Works (Switch)
Excellence in Fighting Game Playability
I’m not good at fighting games. Blazblue Cross Tag Battle lets me pretend like I am. That’s not knocking the game; it’s still a great fighting game. Blazblue Cross Tag Battle makes a concerted effort to allow you to do all the cool things you want to do in fighting games. There’s autocombos, universal overheads, two button shoryukens, probably more stuff that doesn’t go so easily noticed. It’s a blast to be able to play a fighting game without devoting so much time. I’ve never been patient; one of my signature comments when playing Smash is that I hated training mode and have only labbed one completely insignificant combo just to spite it. The result was my combos, movement, execution, all that were terrible, but my neutral was far beyond the rest of my skillset since I only practiced by playing others. But hey, if you don’t lose neutral; you can’t lose the game. I’m so glad Blazblue Cross Tag Battle exists because it lets everyone in on the fantasy. I don’t want every fighting game to be Blazblue Cross Tag Battle. I don’t want to lose the awe of seeing people master these completely mindbogglingly complex and rigid systems and turn them into a battle of the bands. I do think we could use a few more fighting games like Blazlue Cross Tag Battle though.
76. Detention – Red Candle Games (Microsoft Windows)
Excellency in Period Pieces
Detention scares me. I’m scared easily, but the scary thing about Detention isn’t the jump scares: it’s the martial law. It’s also the jump scares, and the monsters, and the fact that you’re in a creepy abandoned school at night alone. Reading about how terrifying the martial law of Taiwan was is deeply horrifying, but playing Detention horrified me. This book list led to so much despair and torment. Playing a WWII shooter is just an excuse to have a shooter where you know the enemies are cool to kill because they’re nazis, but really they rarely matter that they take place in WWII. Detention utilizes it’s historical setting like no other game has.
75. Club Penguin Rewritten – RocketSnail Games/CPRewritten – (Web Browser)
Excellency in MMOs
Club Penguin was an essential part of my childhood. I would log in every day, play tons of mini games, spend my coins on clothes I’d never wear. The game itself isn’t the huge draw, but it was the community. There were blogs upon blogs and forums upon forums of other people who just loved the world Rocket Snail created. These cute flash looking penguins had so much style, and the game was constantly expanding to add new things. The parties were so exciting, they added full blown adventure games with the spy content. The way this stuff was seemingly integrated into the world like it had always been there just you didn’t know about it was amazing. When you played the game there was so much stuff there you don’t know about already! Like so many people remember the pizza parlor, less even knew you could make pizzas, and even less knew there was a dessert pizza mini game. The world was brimming with things to discover and people to talk about those discoveries with. There was constant construction so when new things were added it felt like they were really being built; they’d even give you jackhammers and hard hats and such. You can’t play Club Penguin in the glory days before Disney sucked it dry, but I’m sure the rewritten community is a new adventure. I mean I visit for nostalgia every once in a while, but it must be exciting to follow the redevelopment.
74. Mario Kart 8 – Nintendo EAD Group No. 1 (Wii U)
Excellency in Racing Games
Mario Kart 8 is beautiful. Like look at it. Look at Shy Guy Falls, Toad Harbor, Mount Wario, fucking SNES Rainbow Road even. A game shouldn’t be allowed to look this good. They’re scared; I’m scared. It’s a shame the game never lets you take in the beauty. Like let me live here goddammit. The racing is also fun too.
73. inFamous: Second Son – Sucker Punch Productions (PlayStation 4)
Excellency in Particle Effects
When Sony unveiled the Playstation 4, they promised 2 things: wrinkly old men and particle effects. A few months after the release, inFamous: Second Son drops and delivers on the particle effects. The powers in this game are just awesome and they look even better. Forget lighting and ice, those are for weaker consoles. We have smoke, neon, digital, and concrete. Like what does that even mean? These powers are some of the most fun ways to interact with a world, and the succeed because they just look so damn good. The neon power is neon like oh my god these particle effects. PlayStation 5 better come in 2015 because the PS4 is done the particles won’t get better, and I don’t care about the wrinkly old men getting more wrinkly. The PS5 is here, and I still haven’t seen better.
72. Hearthstone – Blizzard Team 5 (Microsoft Windows)
Excellency in Card Games
Hearthstone is a wild game because it has so many games in it. There’s an auto-battler, puzzle game, rogue-like, drafting, boss fights, etc. The amount of free good single-player content in the game is astounding that I would easily recommend people only play that. It’s harder to recommend the competitive multiplayer because it’s free-to-play which means it’s actually exorbitantly expensive to succeed at. Without that in mind, it’s easily the most fun competitive card game there is. The feeling of all the cards and pieces just are unmatched. It looks clean unlike the clunky feeling of most digital card game. The game oozes so much of it’s own style that it’s hard to believe it’s based on Warcraft. The card designs are so cool like just the new effects they print always blow me away. I couldn’t conceive of them printing a card that spins a wheel to determine what effect happens, but then they print that. There’s so much great about Hearthstone and I wish so much that it didn’t cost $180 a year to not receive every card.
71. Persona 5 – P-Studio (PlayStation 3)
Excellency in Menu Design
I don’t think a single other game I’ve played I was told the first thing you should do is look at the menu. Not have to do, should do. Persona 5 is different because it’s menus are fucking unbelievably cool. Gone is the efficiency and easy readability. The menus are flashy, feature long animations, and constantly move and shake, and they’re amazing. The menus are a big fuck you do modern graphic design which fits perfectly into the game’s central motif of rebellion. The best thing is that the menus work. Not just function, like they work wayyyyyy better than most traditional menus. They begged to be seen and explored, and because of that, the player becomes intimately familiar with them. I know where everything is and how to access it far before the mechanics relating to that menu are introduced. Why wouldn’t I want to explore I need to see all these cool transition animations. The menus never get bad; the stuff is still as badass at 120 hours in as it was at 1. The game’s sense of style and graphic design in general is off the charts, but it shines far the brightest in the menus. When Joker was announced for Smash, I said they better make the stage the menu, and they fucking did. These menu’s are so good that no location in the game begged to be made into a fighting arena more than the fucking menu screen for good reason. Masayoshi Suto should go down in history for making such unbelievably amazing UI and menus for this game.
70. Mario Hoops 3 on 3 – Square Enix (DS)
Excellency in Sports Games
Mario sports games let you play sports but like more fun. I think everyone wants sports to be cooler like of course I would swim across the tennis court if I could. Sport games have always been so limited in their vision like we have all the graphical processing power of a Nintendo DS why would we settle for a normal dunk when we can Konga Dunk. Mario Hoops 3 on 3 also lets you play as Cactaur, and I love Cactaur. Basketball deserves to be played by Mario and Final Fantasy Characters because only they can realize what James Naismith truly envisioned.
69. The Haunted Island, a Frog Detective Game – Grace Bruxner (Microsoft Windows)
Excellency in Comedy
Comedy games are a rare treat where a game does everything it can to make the interactions you perform all result in some sort of laugh. I don’t think any game is as funny as the Frog Detective ones. The sense of humor just understands what is really funny. It’s the idea that you need pasta to make dynamite; that’s what’s funny. So many games use comedy as a bridge between their main gameplay spectacles, but in Frog Detective comedy is the spectacle.
68. Vanquish – Platinum Games
Excellency in Cover Shooters
Cover shooters are a ubiquitous genre in games because they make so much sense but they also don’t? Like, of course you’re gonna shoot from behind cover; here’s a bunch of a waist high walls. That’s not the fantasy of the shooter though, you wanna run around and shoot people at lightning fast paces looking like a cool. You don’t want to get shot though because nothing is worse than repeating a section of gameplay you just did a few minutes ago. Vanquish solves the cover shooter dilemma so elegantly because it gives you a big booster to zoom around the map with and tells you you are way cool for being way cool. Now sure you’re gonna hide behind cover but you’re not just sitting there it’s just a temporary pause between blasting out at breakneck speeds to put some bullets in some aliens or whatever the plot involved. Why haven’t more shooters had giant rockets that boost you around.
67. Overwatch – Blizzard Team 4 (Microsoft Windows)
Excellency in Team Multiplayer Gaming
Overwatch’s world is so alluring. Not actually like it seems pretty horrific, but you don’t actually see any of the bad stuff like the race wars and oppression while playing the game (most of the time). You got magic ladies, talking scientists, cyborg ninjas all trying to drive the worlds slowest car. It’s almost sad that this is a competitive multiplayer game and not like a single player platformer or something that lets me explore the world. The multiplayer is super fun though. It consumed my life for like a whole year. All the decisions they made just felt so right. It had good variety, the characters were super fun, and I felt like I mattered to winning and earned every one that I got. I love that you can play it without being good at twitch reflexes like most games require and that it values other skills. I do miss the higher power level a lot of characters had as I slowly watched them all get nerfed, but I’m not sure how the meta actually is anymore.
66. Paradise Killer – Kaizen Game Works (Switch)
Excellency in World Building
The world of Paradise Killer is extremely horrifying, so why do I love it so much? Like it’s a big allegory for capitalism showing just how bad it is, but then it’s also visually beautiful and super interesting. Part of the reason the game is so enticing to explore and investigate is because this alien world begs to be understood. You can understand the crime pretty intimately, but you really can’t understand the world. It’s just so bizarre like these immortal beings trying to resurrect gods on paper is basic but as you explore the world and see the statues and monuments and plaques you start to get more questions than answers. I can understand how it all relates to criticizing capitalism, and I think it works very well in that regard.
65. Battle Chef Brigade – Trinket Studios (Switch)
Excellency in Match 3 Games
I don’t think I really enjoyed a match 3 game until Battle Chef Brigade. I don’t dislike them, but there’s something about the world and style that gave so much meaning to matching. Choosing the ingredients defining the puzzle on my own terms made the puzzles more interesting, and cooking is just fun. The time limits and balance between side scrolling action and the puzzles provide great balance and challenge. The game also just has great visuals and characters and charm that all make it that much better of an experience.
64. The Beginner’s Guide – Everything Unlimited Ltd. (Microsoft Windows)
Excellency in Something
Beginner’s Guide is a game that doesn’t want to be talked about. Maybe it does. It’s weird to think a game has wants. Obviously a lot of people talked about it, me included. It’s criticism on Game Analysis is really interesting and important but also like I just did it? I’m sure there is a line between hyper analyzing a person based on their work and analyzing the inherent meaning in a work, but it’s also fun to think the game just doesn’t want to be understood.
63. Until Dawn – Supermassive Games (PlayStation 4)
Excellency in Directorial Gameplay
Until Dawn is odd as an interactive drama because there’s not really bad choices. Generally in an interactive drama it’ll give you like 4 options and maybe 2 of them are meaningfully good and the other 2 are just bad and your game will be different flavors of those experience and if not it’s something wholly unsatisfying. Until Dawn is different because it’s a horror movie. Everyone dies but the good christian girl? Cool that’s what I was expecting. Everyone lives? Wow a testament to their courage and survival skills. Just a super fast death to everyone? That sounds fun to do. You just want to kill someone cause you hate their character? Hell yeah they deserve it. Kill everyone because they’re ALL annoying but we’ll keep Matt he’s cool? Finally we’re getting somewhere. You get to play as the director of this horror film, and I hope more interactive dramas take this route to their gameplay, although making it work in genres outside of horror might prove a challenge.
62. Out For Delivery – Yuxin Gao, Lillyan Ling, Gus Boehling, John Bruneau (Microsoft Windows)
Excellency in Documentary Games
I don’t think I really play non-fiction games like ever. I’m sure there’s quiet a few out there, but the agency of the user makes it really hard to make non-fiction and game jive. Out For Delivery is a non-fiction game and it’s really powerful. I could already imagine that food courier is a job that’s a major abuse of labor from already reading so many articles about their mistreatment in the US and from knowing capitalism. Out For Delivery bringing you on the journey for just a bit both is an entertaining trip through Beijing while alerting you just how horrible these things are from the workers themselves. The game also is a snapshot of the first day of the covid lockdown which is a coincidence that really adds future value to this game. I really recommend just playing this it’s only 42 minutes.
61. Doom – id Software (MS DOS)
Excellency in First Person Shooters
Doom isn’t the first FPS, but it’s like the second. It’s still one of the best. I love how fast pace the gameplay is. You just zoom around and boom boom boom the demons are dead. Most First Person Shooters these days are pretty slow comparatively. I would imagine it’s the result of introducing aiming, which is a skill that I’m glad is being tested, but also I kinda miss how fast Doom was. You didn’t really need to aim in Doom. There’s no vertical camera movement, so you just got to get the bad guys somewhere close to the center of the screen. This kinda makes it more of like a timing and rhythm thing rather than an aiming one. It’s about shooting when your paths cross with the demons on your unrelenting carnage towards some elevator key. This just really lets you perform the shooting dream of shooting things well even when I suck at shooting things.
60. Sid Meier’s Civilization V – Fireaxis Games (Microsoft Windows)
Excellency in Clicker Games
I feel like I play Civ wrong. So many people talk about strategy and focus on the military victories, and I just don’t really care about that. I just like making the numbers go up, but specifically, I want ALL the wonders. When I start games I’m always like, you can win, but I better get the Eiffel Tower. My friends usually took the Eiffel Tower.
59. I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream – The Dreamers Guild (MS DOS)
Excellency in Point and Click Adventure Games
Old school adventure games have a, sort of, stigma. They can’t really be beaten by a normal human. They’re not unfairly punishing; just most players can’t solve every puzzle without brute forcing them. I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream might have that. It probably has that; I don’t remember. What I do remember is a goddamn terrify experience about how the industrial military industrial complex will cause the end of the world if left unchecked. I just remember being absolutely horrified all the time, and it’s all just fascinating. I don’t think I even beat the game because getting the ending where you turn into the green slug thing that has no mouth and can’t scream just FELT like the ending.
58. One Night, Hot Springs – npckc (Microsoft Windows)
Excellency in Cuteness
One Night, Host Springs is a really cute game. I think this works super well for this story since it’s like a melancholy ruminence on trans struggles. The game is overall super positive and happy, but it also doesn’t shy away from the stuggles Haru faces in the story. The cuteness helps bring levity to these bad situations which make sense because I’m sure Haru faces this stuff on a regular basis and doesn’t let it get to her. It also helps make the cute scenes even cuter cause it is cute that girl gay and accepting.
57. Octodad: Dadliest Catch – Young Horses (PlayStation 4)
Excellency in Fatherhood
Plenty of games let you be a dad or father-figure, but how many games let you be a normal dad? There’s always, like, zombies getting in the way. Finally Octodad comes and offers the pinnacle of fatherhood. You can be a normal human dad looking after your normal human kids. Cooking burgers, buying cereal, this game has it all. The game is surprisingly great fun in multiplayer as you and your closest friends get to share the responsibilities of being a father: a task too big for some. Octodad is truly the pinnacle of fatherly gameplay.
56. The Last of Us – Naughty Dog (Playstation 3)
Excellency in Moments
The Last of Us has a lot of great moments. There’s the first one, and that one in the middle, and the two at the end. You probably know which ones I’m talking. They involve the intro, some brothers, a giraffe, some doctors. Maybe you have some other favorite moments like Ellie brutally murdering someone, but I think the point is The Last of Us delivers on the moments it offers us. They stick with you for a long time, much past any time you sneaked up and shivved a clicker. he moments did matter, not just individually, but because they were tied together with all that clicker shivving. You know I originally hated the ending to The Last of Us, but a week or so later I came around to loving it. Not many games sit in your brain as much as The Last of Us does.
55. The Walking Dead: Season One – Telltale Games (Playstation 3)
Excellency in Interactive Drama
Interactive Dramas are so fun. I love seeing all the little ways the stories can bend. I’m not gonna complain that there’s not 500 endings because I know how game dev works. Seeing the little changes is what matters. The Walking Dead: Season One definitely stands out among the rest. You really feel like you’re constantly making important choices, and you are. Like you might have a completely different character be alive because of your actions. The bond between Lee and Clementine is great to see developed. I love the two so much and it made me that much more invested in making sure they survived this apocalypse.
54. Animal Crossing: Wild World – Nintendo EAD Group No. 2 (DS)
Excellency in Life Simulation
Animal Crossing: Wild World is just a joy to play. The relaxing atmosphere and music really let you wind down with catching fish and decorating your home. The events are super fun. The best part about Wild World is that you get free friends, like Stitches. I love stitches; he was in my town to start off. I talked with him all time time, ran errands, wrote letters. We became the best of friends, well almost. He didn’t give me his photos, but you know maybe he will soon. Then he told me he’s planning on moving out soon. I don’t want him to go, but despite my pleas he says he must. What if I had been a better friend? If only I was nice enough to become best friends, maybe he would have stayed and given me his photo. I hope he comes back one day; I miss him. Animal Crossing: Wild World is such a sorrow to play.
53. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening – Nintendo EAD (Gameboy)
Excellency in 2D Zelda Games
Zelda as a genre is weird because everyone knows it, and it’s definitely it’s own genre. At the same time, it hasn’t really spawned an actual genre of “Zeldalikes” in the vein of Roguelikes, Soulslikes, or even Metroidvanias. So we got a genre that all the best games are Zelda games, and Zelda games are all some of the best games of all time. There’s a few others like Darksiders, Ittledew, and Goof Troop. Among all the Zelda games that are in the top down 2 dimensional perspective, I think none work as well as Link’s Awakening. The dungeons work really well. I love the overworld. It’s smaller than a lot of other games, I think that makes it work better. There’s still surprises around every turn, but the world feels intimate. It’s a place I could live in, and that plays really well to the game themes. It makes the ending all that much more impactful. This game brings all the puzzly adventure goodness of 2D Zeldas, but in my favorite kind of package.
52. Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time – Insomniac Games (PlayStation 3)
Excellency in Action Platformers
Okay everyone it’s the PlayStation 2. We got more polygons than every and no one wants to just breath fire on people anymore, they want guns and hitting shit. We gotta give them this jumpy shit but they won’t take it unless things go Kaboom. That’s what I imagine every studio went through at the beginning of the PS2 era because platformers were no more and now we have action platformers. Even Mario gotta shoot things now even if it’s paint plants. Ratchet and Clank were one of the best of the action platformers by far. All the funs were unique and fun to use. The comedy really makes the game shine. Most of this genre stayed in the PS2 era, Ratchet and Clank went into the PS3 era and we ended up with the best one, Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time. It does have the worst inappropriate pun title like, what, is it just the word crack?
51. Kirby’s Epic Yarn – Good-Feel (Wii)
Excellency in Touch
Can you touch a game? Absolutely there’s board games and contact sports or any sports. Can you touch a video game? Well you can touch the controller. There’s touch controllers on your phone, DS, Wii U, Mario Galaxy on the switch if you’re feeling masochistic. So why does the game I want to touch the most not let me touch it? Look at that yarn! It must be the grandest yarn string ever, … strung? The whole game makes me want to rub my fingers over it, feeling the different textures. The ever so light glow on the strings just make them see unbelievably better to touch than any normal world string. No wonder this studio is called good feel; I want to touch all their games so badly.
50. Katamari Damacy – NOW Production (PlayStation 2)
Excellency in Destruction
There’s no game more satisfying than Katamari Damacy. It’s like all the goodness of cleaning but in a way better coat of paint and lacking physical labor. Who doesn’t want to destroy everything in their path. It feels so good to just roll up everything. The giant ball of your destruction births a star at the end. That’s definitely some beautiful shit unless you’re one of the countless people the prince rolled up who aren’t immune to the power of nuclear fusion. It’s okay though they got to listen to the amazing soundtrack in the final moments of their life; presumably what most people would want to listen to.
49. A Short Hike – Adam Robinson-Yu (Microsoft Windows)
Excellency in Hiking
If you want to make a game about dealing with emotional turmoil, you gotta make it about climbing a mountain. A Short Hike has that, but it also kinda flattens things and lets you hike it. Nature hates me, so every Hike I’ve done has ended in disaster. A Short Hike lets me experience what an actual human might experience on a hike. It’s so relaxing to just traverse the environment. It really lets you think like I felt like I went on a hike with my character.
48. Rayman Legends – Ubisoft Montpellier (Wii U)
Excellency in 2D Platforming
Rayman Legends nails what a traditional 2D platformer should be. The game has it all. There’s fast-pace action, precision jumping, exploration. I think the rhythm levels really showcase just how good the rest of the game is. They’re the best levels that are thrown in as a bonus at the end of each world. They don’t have any puzzles or explorations featured in other levels, but it’s a sacrifice not made in vain. The levels demand you platform perfectly, and when you do you’ll play along to a remix of a famous song in a whole new style. It’s super satisfying and the rhythm informs to the timing of your acts. I think anyone who’s played this can say medieval-rock Black Betty or mariachi Eye of the Tiger are standout moments in all of gaming.
47. WarioWare: Touched! – Intelligent Systems Co. and Nintendo SPD Group No. 1 (DS)
Excellency in Mini Games
WarioWare tasks you with decrypting what to do with basically no information, and also doing it. You actually figure out what to do almost always in one or two seconds on the first read, but the game stays hard and fun. Making it through gauntlets of games so small the series call them microgames is some of the most pure fun you can have in gaming. WarioWare: Touched! makes the best use of the WarioWare structure by far. The boundlessness and precision of the touch controls work perfectly with this game. It keeps things simple since you know how to interact with every challenge, but it gives you so much more space to explore. Also have you heard Ashley’s Song? That song is THE bop.
46. Pokémon Snap – HAL Laboratory (N64)
Excellency in Photography
I think someone just really wanted to shoot pokémon, but then someone else saw and was like “oh it’s photography.” Pokémon Snap works so well as a game because it both satisfies the Pokémon fantasy, and it makes replaying the same levels fun. You gotta catch them all, but like their essence, ya know, you don’t want a bad shot. Also art is objective now. Professor Oak is the god of my world, and I accept him willing. Rule of thirds is out the window; I befriend the dead center frame. The puzzles surrounding each stage along with the introductions of new ways to interact with this world really sell the experience. Capturing them all isn’t just about good timing to get massive points; it’s about throwing apples around aimlessly hoping some magikarp might come out and swim into a waterfall. The little hints you get towards some pokémon are great like seeing the eggs or the little porygon sticking out. Pokemon Snap might be the game I’ve played the most, and it’s a game that already makes you do the same thing over and over and over again.
45. Catherine – Atlus 2nd Creative Production Department (PlayStation 3)
Excellency in Puzzle Games
Catherine is a game about a lot of things, but what it does best is it’s gameplay. It’s such a good puzzle game that it’s actually a fighting game. If you can’t just hear edge, hoping one day the world will say it when pushing real boxes, in your head clearly, you didn’t play Catherine. You think Sokoban wouldnt work as a 3D game that actually uses all three dimensions, but Catherine makes it work really well. This game is so fucking hard, but the rules are so simple that you know you can either solve it or brute force it by pushing all the blocks off the edge really quickly. You know the reason the men turn to sheep is because the origin of the word horny. When men cheated they’d grow horns in like ancient England. That also leads me to believe that the name and maybe idea as a whole comes from Henry VIII. He had three wives named Catherine (all with a C, definitely none with a Q). This matches up with the eventual three Catherines, although I’ve never played Catherine: Full Body. Vincent’s name isn’t henry but they could’ve gotten it from VIIIncent.
44. Punch-Out!! – Next Level Games (Wii)
Excellency in Animation
Punch-Out!! gives the player an extremely small and rigid amount of options to use. Little Mac can’t do much beside duck to the side and punch. Your opponents on the other hand, all perform moves the World Boxing Organization might find a bit against the rules. Punch-out!! is all about the timing. Reacting to these elaborate feats of probably wrestling with a frame perfect left jab shows that you agree that drinking soda shouldn’t be legal in the ring. All the same time these matches are like a puzzle. Besides figuring out that your coach eating chocolate some how heals you, you can also try and see what the game doesn’t show. Tons of characters give great tells to their elaborate moves which you can punish, but most moves have several points you can attack at. Trying to think like a real boxer and hit your opponent at more ideal times usually nets you more damage or other bonuses. I assume the physics checks out cause it’s usually right before they hit you and newtons third law. None of this gameplay would be possible without the great animations of mostly European stereotypes.
43. Gone Home – Fullbright (Microsoft Windows)
Excellency in Walking Simulation Games
Walking Simulation is probably a bad name for any game that isn’t, like, QWOP, but english is bad, game genres are bad, and you know what that means. Gone Home lets you explore this house that’s way to creepy for the main thing to not be creepy at all. Your sister is gay is the best premise for anything ever, so great starting place. The way the story unfolds through you violating your family’s privacy way to much honestly makes the story all the better. You get intimate on a level a family member probably should be. Maybe the protagonist wouldn’t need to guess that her dad’s filing cabinet’s combination is 0451 because it’s the same code in every game to cry about her sister facing a hard time from her parents because of her sexuality, but I did. You sort of become the protagonist through doing something she wouldn’t do. If I played the game a second time relatively soon after the first, I wonder if I could’ve felt the same feels by only reading the things my sister intended for me to. I’d wager yes because knowing about my father’s books and the haunted house were interesting and fleshed out the world but more informed me to situation rather than contribute to the story.
42. Flower – Thatgamecompany (PlayStation 3)
Excellency in Museum Exhibits
I played Flower for the first time … not in a museum. I probably saw some youtube video that included it and got curious and I was like damn that’s some good shit. Years later, I went to a museum and it had a bunch of PS3s set up. Most weren’t playing Flower, but one was. I think they had some games you’d expect like Pac-Man and Journey, but they also had like some shooter maybe Killzone? For almost all the games, I don’t really think they suited being in a museum gallery. It felt more like a E3 show floor despite never being on one. At best they were showing off the graphical fidelity of the works. With Journey you can look at how beautiful the game is, listen to how good the soundtrack is, stuff like that, and it’d still be a good experience. Only with Flower (and Pac-Man probably) would you really get an experience that’s more than a tech demo. Sure most people probably didn’t sit in the museum for two hours playing every level, but I think just playing one level you could already understand why Flower was so great. The commentary on how saving the environment is good isn’t lost on anyone who plays the game for more than one second. You still get the beautiful aesthetics and great gamefeel on just a single level playthrough. I wholly recommend the full two hour experience, but I think it can sit in a museum.
41. Super Mario Odyssey – Nintendo EPD Production Group No. 8 and 1-UP Studio (Switch)
Excellency in Collect-a-thons
It’s weird that a Mario game is the greatest collect-a-thon since the only one that really fits is Odyssey. There’s like what 890 moons in this game? That’s so many I only collected like 300 something. That’s way more than even required. I think that’s the point the game was still super fun to collect way more than the minimum requirement, and there’s enough to collect that for 99% of players you collect until your satisfied leaving still a surplus of collectibles. Obviously some players still remain unhappy, which is why Super Mario Odyssey also lets you collect high scores on things like speed running challenges (honestly the best feature, competing against your friends is so fun), jump rope, and a really shitty volleyball game. If that’s still not enough, this game has so many entertaining speed runs it’s amazing how much quality content you can squeeze out of this game. The game also has probably the most interesting worlds in Mario ever. They still follow the basic trends for a lot of parts, like but these iterations all stand out among the trends. For Example, Tostarena outshines even the Layer-Cake Desert in terms of standing out. Can I have an aside about the Layer-Cake Desert really quickly? Like what a waste of potential. First off it’s not called the Dessert Desert like it should’ve been, and the strict color scheme really makes it hard to discern the cake themeing. I understood perfectly when I played, but it honestly could’ve easily been the best theme for a desert kingdom by far. The few kingdoms that use no themes like previously like the Hat Kingdom and New Donk City are huge highlights of the game. The purple coins use in buying outfits also helps make collecting things even more fun.
40. The Stanley Parable – Galactic Cafe (Microsoft Windows)
Horribleness in Directions
Early on into The Stanley Parable, the game offers you a choice. Do you go into the left door or the right door. The only thing is is that it’s not a choice. The narrator tells you to go into the right door. Doing that advances on with the plot. The problem is you can still go into the left door, and by all accounts, doing so is vastly more interesting. Why would the game tell me the directions to the less interesting door. It’s simply horrible at giving directions.
39. Kid Icarus: Uprising – Project Sora and Sora Ltd. (3DS)
Excellency in not being the first Kid Icarus
It’s a good thing Sakurai made Kid Icarus Uprising right? Like I just tried playing Kid Icarus for the NES, and it made me cry because it’s too hard. I read a bit about the development, and I feel really bad like they made the game in a few months of massive crunch. It’s not their fault snakes spawn endless above you with no ground so they fall at massive speeds. At least I hope it’s a glitch like they only ever spawn in the center something’s definitely up with that code. Kid Icarus: Uprising is great though it’s really unlike anything else. I don’t know why Sakurai wanted to make that, but I’m grateful for the value he saw in the franchise. They really need to remake this game and get it onto a console that doesn’t require you to break your hands to play. Like I still have the stand that came with this game. They really were like this game is so bad for your hands that you need a stand. That’s wild we have two analog sticks now.
38. Shadow of The Colossus – Team Ico (PlayStation 2)
Excellency in Boss Battles
Boss battles are usually the highlights of game. There’s all this build-up towards this spectacle that’s the ultimate test of your skill. Boss rushes are usually fun and make the bosses feel much less important by nature of having to do them all in quick succession like they’re normal enemies. Shadow of the Colossus is a boss rush but without anything else, and it works great. Every battle against the colossi is super unique and meaningful. The game would suffer from having some generic hack and slash shit between when you scale the colossi. There’s all this and the game has amazing art and music. The story is great like this game has it all.
37. Luigi’s Mansion – Nintendo EAD Software Group No. 1 (GameCube)
Excellency in Metroidvanias
If you know me, you know metroidvanias are at the bottom of my genre liking list. They’re also at the top of genres I want to like more list. I think Luigi’s Mansion is the only metroidvania that I like. It’s also fitting that it’s the only game in the Luigi’s Mansion series that is a metroidvania, and I like the whole series. Exploring the mansion is really fun for me. I love getting the keys to get new rooms or doing things like using the elements to open new areas. Maybe the metroidvania aspects are big enough that they’re there, but small enough that they just add flavor rather than define the game. Maybe it’s that the hallways you traverse so often only take a matter of seconds to maneuver because the mansion is so compact. The reason Luigi’s Mansion proper is my favorite Luigi’s Mansion is undoubtedly the metroidvania elements complimenting the ghost busting aesthetics. Now if I can just love other metroidvanias as much as I love this.
36. HITMAN 2 – IO Interactive (PlayStation 4)
Excellency in Stealth Games
HITMAN 2’s puzzle box level design makes it the perfect stealth game. Hiding isn’t just about moving between site lines, although that’s definitely still there. You have to mix in disguises, target movements, story events, checkpoints, area level security. All these systems work in harmony to make any given assassination a massive puzzle with a million solutions. I had my fair share of missions where I just snapped a neck when I ended up with the target and no one around somehow, but I also killed people with statues and iron maidens and such more. It also helps how these areas feel like fleshed out worlds that exist without you and bend to your presence if needed. They’re also beautiful like half the reason Miami is my favorite level is because I’m from there, I mean, it’s rendered so well. It’s great how this openness leads to the game offering endless replayability with so many options you didn’t get to experience.
35. River City Girls – Wayforward Technologies Inc. and Arc System Works (Switch)
Excellency in 2D Beat ’em Ups
I don’t know if a game has occupied my mind as much as River City Girls. Most likely because I have a poster of the characters, and the soundtrack is on the shelf under my TV. Regardless, these two girls infatuated me with their punk charms. They showed me why old school beat ’em ups were valuable. They made me want to beat the shit out of a bunch of the same high school students over and over again while we look for our boyfriends. The duo just has so much energy and spunk that it bleeds into your soul and makes you love 2D beat ’em ups. Their soul is the genre’s soul.
34. Portal 2 – Valve Corporation (PlayStation 3)
Excellency in Villains
Video game villains are often infamous, but none are as fleshed out as GLaDOS. She’s great because I want a women to tell me what to do and then reprimand me for it. She’s also great because she spends most of the runtime of Portal 2 as a potato attached to your gun. This lets you form a special bond with GLaDOS that doesn’t rely on the insecurities I have with the direction of my life. You could argue that GLaDOS isn’t really the main villain of Portal 2, and you’d be correct. She’s definitely a villain that’s in Portal 2 though. Wheatley, the actual main villain of the game, is also great. He’s still adds tons of humor as the villain, but in a way completely divorced from GLaDOS’s style. Both villians define a game that already has extremely good puzzles and world building.
33. Pikmin 3 – Nintendo EAD Group No. 4 (Wii U)
Excellency in Real Time Strategy Games
Keeping track of one hundred units all at once is a nigh impossible task for the average me. Doing it while separating them into groups of three characters and then keeping tracks of groups of groups and then keeping track of multiple colors and then. Real Time Strategy is surprisingly something I’m not good at (jk it’s very unsurprising). Pikmin 3 is great in that it lets me real time strategize just as much as I can and barely skirt by and win. It’s gooey time limit lets me ignore the overarching plot to go and make the game easier if I so choose. Pikmin 3, also, has pikmin. Look at those creatures; they’re so cute. The enemies you ruthlessly murder for their bioescence are also extremely cute.
32. Silent Hill 2 – Team Silent (PlayStation 2)
Excellency in Horror Games
In Silent Hill 2, there’s a monster called Abstract Daddy. To those who haven’t played the game, this is an extremely silly sounding enemy name. To anyone who has, it’s one of the most horrifying experiences ever not despite it’s name but because of it.
31. Splatoon 2 – Nintendo EPD Production Group No. 5 (Switch)
Excellency in Shooter Gameplay
Splatoon proper solved the quintessential issue all shooters before it faced. When you shoot a gun, you can miss. Why would I ever want to miss? That shit sucks. Splatoon’s team, filled with youth and new ideas, understands just how many eggs missing sucks. Now when you shoot and miss, you’re actually doing something much more useful. Even the worst players on your team can’t help but help as they miss their opponents and accidentally paint the floor for you. This gives you either more movement options, or it distracts the enemies giving you an opportunity to take advantage of. Also, painting both is very satisfying and gives players something to do when enemies aren’t there to shoot at. It’s a masterclass in game design, and Splatoon 2 is the marginally better version of Splatoon proper.
30. Star Fox 64 – Nintendo EAD (N64)
Excellency in Arcade Gameplay
It’s weird to say the greatest arcade game is an N64 game, but maybe arcade games are better to play at home? Star Fox is fun to play over and over till you eventually beat it, and it would have been enough (dayenu) . Star Fox 64 also features tons of secrets that are easily enough to find, but tricky enough to perform that I still haven’t even played one of the levels. The branching paths leading to immensely-different, extremely-fun levels makes me want to play the game over and over and over again. It’s like a new game every time, but it’s not proc-gen.
29. Bioshock Infinite – Irrational Games and Virtual Programming (PlayStation 3)
Excellency in Bullshit Nonsense
Bioshock Infinite might be bullshit nonsense, but I love it. The game’s goal of criticizing America by comparing the unchecked nationalism of it’s people with, well American nationalism works very well. Anyone can read this game and see that putting the founding fathers as godly figures is both too accurate and very blatant. The game isn’t worse for this, though, because of the bullshit nonsense. You can find meaning in the bullshit nonsense, and you will be justified. You can also hate the bullshit nonsense and be justified all the same. I found meaning in the bullshit nonsense, but I also didn’t learn to read until one year later. That’s the beauty of bullshit nonsense. It helps you swallow the unabashedly american rest of the game it sets up for you to be horrified in broad daylight. Bioshock Infinite doesn’t need all the horror elements to be scary; american nationalism is already horrifying. The horror elements borrowed from the original game actually bring levity in the form of bullshit nonsense. No other game makes such good use of bullshit nonsense like Bioshock Infinite does.
28. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate – Sora Ltd. and Bandai Namco Studios (Switch)
Excellency in Crossovers
I’ve had multiple entries in this list where I forewent any explanation of it’s inclusion because I was lazy it was self explainable. None deserve it more than Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. If you don’t understand why this game is so hype, then this is probably the first time you’ve ever encounter a “video game.” The age old question of who would win in a fight, Sephiroth or the Wii-Fit Trainer, has finally been answered.
27. Super Mario 3D World – Nintendo EAD Production Group No. 8 Group 2 (Wii U)
Excellency in Coopertition
There is perhaps no greater activities for friends to partake in than the coopertition. You have to work together to achieve your goal and you want to work together with your friends, but you also want to show those schmucks your better at the video game. No game does this as well as Super Mario 3D World. On top of being an excellent 3D platforming entry into the Super Mario series, the game lets you play with 3 of your closest frienemies. The game keeps tracks of all the points you get and shows you with a nice bar graph just how much better your one friend is than everyone else. This already makes that friend feel vastly superior, but the game goes further. Enter, the crown. The crown is an object bestowed to the champion of the previous course. The player gets to showcase the crown in all it’s glory for the entire level and get bonus points at the end. That is if they do not die or if other players do not steal it. This crown facilitates the coorpertition perfectly because you still need to advance the level; you’re on a time limit and the crown will go away if someone dies. Other players can also go off and earn points if you’re fighting for the crown. This push and pull gameplay between the objectives and the crown really ramps up the fun. The hidden collectibles in every stage also earn major bonus points, so the coorpertition incentives everyone to search. You also need the green star collectibles to advance, which coopertition makes an insignificant roadblock. Super Mario 3D World turns the oft forgotten point tally in Mario games into the game.
26. Yakuza 0 – Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio (PlayStation 3)
Excellency in Meandering
Yakuza 0’s narrative flows like a river, but not in the way you usually describe games. Yakuza 0 is a game where you have five minutes to get to a building across the street, but you can go all the way across town to do karaoke. Whether you choose to do that in such a dire situation is up to you (I didn’t), but there’s ample opportunities for you to get sidetracked doing things. The game not only wants you to spend time living in it’s world outside of it’s yakuza narrative, but also begs you to. Yakuza 0 wouldn’t be as good of a game if it didn’t have chapters where it gives you no indication of where to go so you roam and end up starring in Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Kiryu and Majima don’t live in a non-stop, high pressure Yakuza action game, they live in Japan. Why would Kiryu immediately go to his next objective when he has several hours to kill time? Kiryu would spend all that time playing Pocket Racers, as Yakuza Kiwami shows so elegantly in it’s karaoke mini-game song “Bakamitai -Sorrow-.” You know what? Fuck it. Yakuza 0 is a pocket racing game witha yakuza action thriller mini-game.
25. Final Fantasy VII Remake – Square Enix Business Division 1 (PlayStation 4)
Excellency in Action Role-Playing Games
The materia system in Final Fantasy VII Remake made it the most fun I’ve ever had with an Action RPG. I loved figuring out which materia was best for what situation and which characters. I loved seeing which ones I wanted to develop for later even if I was worse off now, and you know I optimized the layouts to look as aesthetically pleasing to my eyes as possible. The materia system offered way more interesting decision making than the average skill tree, and then Final Fantasy VII Remake offers a more interesting skill tree on top of it. The rest of the action RPG is still great. I love the pausing to chose your moves and think. I love getting good enough to map the moves I want to use most onto quick select and actually use them. I also just love this game in general.
24. Persona 4 Golden – P-Studio (Vita)
Excellency in Soundtrack
Persona 4 Golden has so many amazing songs. Every song fills me with such emotions from boppiness to sadness to chillness. The music is so good in this game that they put it into a rhythm game that has the best soundtrack out of any rhythm game. Technically the rhythm game has a better soundtrack, as it also includes some great original songs as well as songs from other Persona 4 titles, but I do not think the rhythm game makes as good use of it’s soundtrack as Persona 4 does. “Heartbreak, Heartbreak” works much better when its playing on a cloudy day after school then when I’m seeing probably Yosuke dancing in a sentai outfit to it.
23. Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door – Intelligent Systems Co. (GameCube)
Excellency in Turn-Based Role-Playing Games
Someone somewhere played Dragon Quest for Famicom and said this rules. Then someone somewhere decided they can do better. Eventually these ideas trickled into the team at Intelligent Systems minds, and they thought “what if for any attack, you press two buttons instead of one.” Bursting open a world of potential Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door lets you perform attack with one button press, and then make them a whole lot better with good timing on subsequent ones. These turn based battles are so much more engaging despite having so many fewer options than its contemporaries. Add in great world building, humor, and character designs and Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door stands out as the greatest Turn-Based Role-Playing Game. It also has Vivian, which would have been enough (dayenu).
22. Bioshock – 2K Boston and 2K Australia (PlayStation 3)
Excellency in Looking Glass Games
Bioshock is not a game from Looking Glass Technologies, but no games from the year 2000 on are. Bioshock is a game from Ken Levine, game designer at Looking Glass Technologies from 1995 to 1997; along with the rest of the team at, what would be known in all subsequent and previous years to Bioshock’s release, Irrational Games. Looking Glass games are games in similar vein to System Shock and Theif. A first person game where narrative drives the experience forward and focuses heavily on analyzing the environment. Walking Simulators are not always looking glass games, but a lot of them are. Looking Glass games can also have things other than walking and interacting like shooting, as shown in Bioshock. Of all games that I’d consider a looking glass game, I like Bioshock the most.
21. Journey – Thatgamecompany (PlayStation 3)
Excellency in Weenies
I don’t think any weenie in any game has ever been as enticing as that glowing mountain in Journey. I still think about how much I want to get there and how much it’s worth the effort. This is in stark contrast to anything I experience in my real life. I see things I really want to get to and spend an exorbitantly large amount of effort to achieve, somehow, losing something. Journey gives you friends to help you out in your journey (I swear this was an accident) to the weenie. Unfortunately the US government won’t give me unemployment.
20. Resident Evil: Revelations – Capcom (3DS)
Excellency in Survival Horror
Resident Evil: Revelations marries the excellent gameplay of Resident Evil 4 with the spooky, tightly confined space of Resident Evil proper. The cruise ship defines this game as it turns a place of gluttonous fun-having to a place of absolute terror. I still hear “mayday, mayday” in my head sometimes because it scared me that much. It also plays and looks amazing despite being a 3DS game. In fact the 3DS might’ve made the situation scarier because of the limited vision, increased depth, and hand-holdedness. What feels more cramped than a small corridor on a small screen.
19. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Trials and Tribulations – Capcom Production Studio 4 (Game Boy Advanced)
Excellency in Visual Novel Stories
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trials and Tribulations concludes the Phoenix Wright Trilogy with it’s hardest hitting story yet. It concludes Phoenix’s story so well, you’d be surprised to learn he stars in several more Ace Attorney games. The use of mystery detective mechanics integrated into trials to put your wits to the test remains as good as it was in the original. They really make you read and analyze the text presented in every conversation to try and gain an understanding of the case. It’s always great to predict the story beats before they happen because you were paying attention.
18. Bayonetta 2 – Platinum Games (Wii U)
Excellency in Stylish Action Games
Bayonetta 2 plays so smoothly no matter how good you are at it. If you just want to mash buttons, Bayonetta will still pull off super stylish combos and guillotine some angels. If you want to dig into the advance combo systems, you can fly enemies all across the screen in a series of flurries earning you the elusive (to me) pure platinum award. Platinum Games is so great because they make these games that always feel like you’re challenged no matter how good you are at them. There’s always more to learn and optimize if you wish, and there’s always that mode where you just swipe on the touch screen and Bayo does cool stuff if you want.
17. Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward – Chunsoft (Vita)
Excellency in Branching Narratives
You could argue Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward doesn’t have a branching narrative. You’d be correct. It’s still the best branching narrative I’ve ever played. No game compelled me to go to that flow chart and fill out every single entry like Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward has. Most games don’t even offer a flow chart to use, to their detriment. The flow chart system makes the branching paths work because it’s so seamless to go and explore more content. How it all comes together in the end is just more icing on the cake.
16. Pokémon Black and White – Game Freak (DS)
Excellency in Collectible Monster Games
Pokémon Black and White let me experience Pokémon for the first time after I had already experienced Pokémon at least 4 times if not more before. All of a sudden I was talking with my current roommate in Spanish class where we were seated together by chance and he told me to play the new Pokémon. Of course, I was a lonely nerd with no friends, so I had already been playing this Pokémon game. Now, I was making friends: trading and battling with them. It didn’t have to be the best Pokémon game that this occurred with, but it was. Pokémon Black and White has the best Pokémon designs, the best story, the best characters, the best graphics, and the best everything. People will cite many games as the fall of the Pokémon franchise with most of them citing this game, and those people are dead wrong. I only love this game more and more with each passing year, and Heart Gold through Black 2 is the golden age of Pokémon. I would like it to have Fairy type in it just because my mind’s plasticity is zero, but that’s on me.
15. Sayonara Wild Hearts – Simogo (Switch)
Excellency in Musical Experiences
Sayonara Wild Hearts is like playing a music album. Tons of games have great music, but this one the music is the game. If I wanted to listen to this soundtrack while I was at home, I’d simply just play the game because it can’t be a better experience than that. The music and visuals are amazing. The gameplay is wildly varied yet extremely consistent. It’s also very very gay, one of my key requirements for games.
14. Xenoblade Chronicles – Monolith Soft (Wii)
Excellency in Environmental Design
Xenoblade Chronicles has the most beautiful environments of any game I’ve ever played. That’s saying a lot because it’s a Wii game. Monolith Soft nailed the execution of the environment through great use of colors, lighting, staging, and landscaping. You know they did an unbelievably good job when people complain that the foliage in the remake looks worse. It likely looks worse because it’s rendered with more polygons; therefore, they couldn’t apply the same physics effects for wind and movement to it. I have no idea if this is true or not, but the remake does look amazing as well. This and every entry generally is talking about any and all versions unless specifically stated. Xenoblade Chronicles likely still has the best environmental design in it’s 3DS and Switch remakes and it’s Wii U port. It’s also likely still an amazing RPG in it’s own right with engaging combat and planning, a gripping story, and lovable characters (not Juju).
13. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception – Naughty Dog (PlayStation 3)
Excellency in Adventure
No games take you on such a capital ‘A’ Adventure like the Uncharted series. Naughty Dog just knows exactly what would be pure fun and exciting to have happen. Nathan Drake might not be the best person stealing ancient artifacts and murdering massive amounts of people, but I don’t care I want the spectacle. The climbing around and competing to the treasure offers pure-fun thrills like no other. The elements of adventure are boiled down into their essential form and delivered directly to you.
12. Celeste – Matt Makes Games (Switch)
Excellency in Movement
Celeste is so fun to move in. I have looked at the movement code in Celeste. I can understand it in chunks, but I can only hope to one day understand all 5471 lines of it. Those 5471 lines create a masterpiece of movement. The dash and the way it interacts with everything works too well. The game is brutally difficult, and if you EVER think it’s not your fault, you can go and look through those 5471 lines to see where the game went wrong. You probably won’t be able to do better; although, I do hope one day someone will surpass Celeste in movement. It likely won’t be for a long time, if ever. Even if it does happen, Celeste still is an amazing game because all aspects of it are amazing. The story of Madeline rings too true for me and lots of others. The struggle of climbing the mountain to work through your problems has been statically proven to be the best way to represent a character overcoming their internal strife. The art is beautiful, and I’m sure someone better than me could write books on how good the music is. Madeline is also trans so fuck yeah!
11. Butterfly Soup – Brianna Lei (Microsoft Windows)
Excellency in Visual Novels
Butterfly Soup understands what it’s like to be gay. That’s great; I love stories about gay. It’s got the laughs and feels that come along with gayness. I really love the baseball girl who only plays baseball because of anime. I’ve done that. I took a volleyball camp because of Haikyuu!!. I gave up after one class because I thought it was a class for girls and I wanted to meet gay girls, but it had a large majority not girls and there weren’t any girls on my team. Gayness and sports are very linked though. Butterfly Soup is a great story and everyone should read it.
10. Super Smash Bros. Melee – HAL Laboratory (GameCube)
Excellency in Melee
Melee is beautiful. Maybe, beauty is melee. The game mechanics in Melee work so well. The game ebbs and flows. It also had Luigi and Pikachu which was enough to enamor 4-year-old Tess. The game holds so many dear memories from playing it with my cousin in my childhood to watching the competitive scene during the 5 Gods and 4 Gods and Leffen eras. The game sort of grew up with me from me playing pokéball-only corneria matches as a child to trying to show that my Game & Watch was indeed sick while I failed to ignore my roommates watching Keijo!!!!!!!!. I will always have a place in my heart for Melee regardless of how much I wish there were more competitively viable characters.
Class Trials are the mechanic that define Danganronpa. They are by far the most campy way of seeing a murder deduction play out and for the better. The game lets you have huge stakes because characters you actually like are dying, and then you get to play a giant game of Mafia to determine whodunnit. Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair has the best characters, and the best murder mysteries of the series. I would argue, it has the best murder mysteries because it has the best characters. You know the characters are good when Gundham Tanaka isn’t my favorite character.
8. Rhythm HeavenFever – Nintendo SPD Group No. 1 (Wii)
Excellency in Rhythm Games
There’s a video called “The Most Perfectly Synced 5 Seconds of Melee” that I feel like perfectly encapsulates why Rhythm Heaven Fever is so good. It also, in fact, is not a video of Rhythm Heaven Fever; it is one of Super Smash Bros. Melee. Rhythm Heaven finds the rhythm in every day things and sets them to ungodly good music. Playing the game is dead simple, rarely involving more than one button. The strict timing of success makes playing Rhythm Heaven challenging, and the good music demands playing Rhythm Heaven perfectly. Rhythm Heaven Fever is my favorite Rhythm Heaven because I love it’s remixes the best, but I will always admit that Rhythm Heaven Megamix does offer more good songs by nature of having like twice as many and encompassing almost all of the base Rhythm Heaven Fever tracks. Rhythm Heaven Fever’s Remix 10 eluded my completion for many years. It’s the final remix and is long and demands practically no errors to pass. It wasn’t until I demanded my college’s game library add Rhythm Heaven Fever to it’s collection many times over the coarse of three years that I’d gain the conviction to complete it. I did complete it only a few weeks before I graduated, making it an endeavor that lasted longer than college itself.
7. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim – Vanillaware (PlayStation 4)
Excellency in Narrative Design
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim took 6 years to write. I throw that around a lot, but I’m always so genuinely impressed with that. I, for example, have never taken six years to do anything. I honestly avoid doing things that take more than six minutes. The time taken pays off immensely. This is by far the most interesting narrative that’s simultaneously the most Pepé Sylvia. The amount of things that make narratives complicated that is in this game is too large. It has time travel, multiple dimensions, time loops, 13 playable perspectives, branching paths, no specific playing order, three different game play modes the story is delivered through, ghosts, clones, aliens, robots, androids, kaiju, magic, amnesia, drugs, more complicated stuff that’s not brought up in the first 7% of the game. Somehow, despite every single thing getting in the way of telling a cohesive narrative, this game does tell one.
6. Fire Emblem: Three Houses – Intelligent System Co. (Switch)
Excellency in Ensemble Casts
The best thing Fire Emblem: Three Houses does is create the best ensemble cast. Technically you can talk about the prevalence of several characters over others in therms of story relevance, but any character can be the star of your game. You can watch all of Ignatz’s support conversations and make him the star of your combat encounters. Every single recruitable character is so well designed that I love them all. I still look at Fire Emblem: Three Houses memes and fan art to this day. I don’t do that with basically any other game voluntarily. The cast of characters is one I love so much and want to spend time and time and time and time and time again with. Heck even the non-ensemble cast is great. Gatekeeper is easily one of my favorite characters in gaming and he just stands there and reports nothing. I’ve never thought about a character that shows up and is barely mentioned nearly as much as I think about Holst. And, yes, they are hot, and, yes, that does positively effect my opinion of them.
5. [KIND WORDS] (lo fi chill beats to write to) – Popcannibal (Microsoft Windows)
Excellence in Empathy
Kind Words (I’m not even gonna try and type the full title every time) asks you for one thing: empathy. The game is beautiful because it lets you be nice to people. I’ve posted several things on the game, and I’ve only gotten great responses in return. The way the game facilitates empathy between players is great. I love the paper airplane system for people who want to share love but are having trouble currently addressing anyone in particular. The music, collectibles, and little environment really add to the experience. It sets the mood to write nice things to other people perfectly and elevates the writing of people’s letters. I’m so glad this game exists.
4. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – Nintendo EPD Production Group No. 3 (Wii)
Excellency in Dungeons
The dungeon design in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is above and beyond the rest of the series. There’s so many unique dungeons with interesting mechanics to solve. Skykeep, The Ancient Cistern, The Sandship, and The Lanayru Mining Facility are stand-outs among stand-outs. They all provide the spectacle you want out of a dungeon without sacrificing the fun puzzlebox solving. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword also has great visual and music that I’m not equipped to talk about in any detail, much like almost every other entry on this list. The story and characters are very compelling unlike most of the rest of the Zelda series. I love that Zelda is going around getting shit done and Link just bumbles through and does nothing. Zelda is generally a much bigger badass than Link and I think Skyward Sword shows that off the best. The side characters are also great like I love Impa, Fi, and especially Groose. Obviously I do wish Fi would mandatorily talk less, but her saying “there’s a 5% chance that Flower is Zelda” (something close to that) is still my favorite line in video games. I also like the motion controls since I had virtually no issues with them.
3. A Hat in Time – Gears For Breakfast (Microsoft Windows)
Excellency in 3D Platforming
A Hat in Time has the best worlds in 3D Platforming. Mafia Town, Subcon Forrest, Nyakuza Metro, and Battle of the Birds are the most fun I’ve had jumping around. The great movement is a plus on top of the world design. The style, charm, and humor these worlds offer define the game so much. I think the game is better for the variety of levels it offers: from the murder mystery train to the lava-filled open world town. There’s not really any two levels that are alike at all outside of maybe the entirety of the Alpine Skyline and Nyakuza Metro, which the charm of those worlds being their open exploration nature. I wish more games had as creative worlds as A Hat in Time does.
2. Return of the Obra Dinn – Lucas Pope (Microsoft Windows)
Excellency in Mystery Games
Return of the Obra Dinn’s mystery is huge. There’s 60 people you need to find out what happens to. The fact that the process is challenging but completely doable is amazing. The game gives so many different ways to deliver the information you need. You can figure out who people are based on their clothing, location, accents, dialogue, visual features, and so much more. It’s generally obvious how a person dies, and the game is lenient enough that there’s only a single case I found where the way someone dies was likely unfairly presented. That’s it of 60 cases, 59 are 100% fair. I’m still not sure exactly what happened in that other case, and maybe through my playthroughs and watching of others we all just missed something brutally obvious. This is definitely the best detective game I have ever played.
1. NieR: Automata – Platinum Games (PlayStation 4)
Excellency in Direction
NieR: Automata is not a silly little thing. NieR: Automata is the best game I ave ever played, and much of that is owed to Yoko Taro. A lot of people have given their differing thoughts about what this game means, and I think text supports all these different claims. You can read NieR: Automata in so many different ways, and it’s better because of it. I think that NieR: Automata is a game about how Nihilism is beautiful because we all experience Nihilism together. You could say that I’m wrong, and you’d probably be right. You could also say that I am right, and you’d also probably be right. Philosophical readings aside, this game easily ranks among the best gameplay, visuals, music oh especially music of any game I have ever played. I love that every single sidequest supports the work thematically rather than just padding out the experience with things to do. This is the only game I have ever sought out the platinum trophy for, and not even because you can cheat and buy trophies. I did cheat for two particularly grindy achievements, but that was after already getting every other achievement included grinding for all the weapons at max level. I was not about to spend more time trying to manipulate Emil’s spawn to the Resistance Camp again. That would not have been beneficial to anything. NieR: Automata should go down years from now as one of the best games of all time. If it doesn’t, we are either really lucky or very unlucky.
This list sucks. I hate this. It’s written like a mix of a 4th grade narrative essay and a reddit post you don’t want to read. I wanted to go in and make a Top 100 list that would cover such a breadth of games that would show how far games have come. I knew that that task would not be possible alone, which is why I pivoted to the “excellent” direction. That doesn’t even work as a tl;dr for each section sometimes I go way off topic. The descriptions are a mix of bad jokes, personal stories, actual analysis, and meandering about other games. It is impossible to talk about a game without talking about other video games because games don’t exist in a vacuum, but this was supposed to be short celebratory analysis. I haven’t played some of these games in over 10 years. How was I supposed to talk coherently about Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time without replaying it. The memories from January 2012 really aren’t cutting it. This didn’t even serve as good writing practice because I wrote so much in delirium due to how massive and daunting this task was. How can I even talk about this stuff? I haven’t even played some of the quintessential best games of all time. I haven’t played Dark Souls, Hollow Knight, Tokimeki Memorial, or Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3. I did play Necrobarista between starting and finishing this list, and that game is great. It probably would’ve made the cut had I finished it a bit sooner. This is much closer to my top 100 favorite games of all time, but it isn’t even. I like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time much more than most of the games on this list. My favorite 2D Mario game didn’t make the cut. I just have to assume this list is not interesting. Also most of the games are ones I played in 2011-2015, which is when I was in high school, or extremely recently. Actually lets take a look a data distribution.
These charts are obviously flawed. How do you define AAA or Indie like what is Tetris, what is Club Penguin Rewritten, what is River City Girls? I didn’t include multiplatform releases at all, so tons of PS3 and PS4 games are on other platforms like Microsoft Windows. Even the year category is weird. I generally included the first release date but Persona 4 Arena Ultimax I used the console release and not the arcade release date, and Persona 4 Golden I used Golden’s release date and not the originals. Games with large gaps in Japanese and North American releases also seem odd like Pokemon Black and White’s release date being 2010 and not 2011 and Yakuza 0’s release date being 2015 and not 2017.
So with that acknowledgement out of the way, it’s pretty obvious just how flawed the data is. Obviously 1/5 of all most excellent games didn’t release on the PS3 probably. The year chart honestly might key into some convergence between late PS3 and PS4 life-cycles merging with early Wii U and Switch releases to create this pulsating waves of great games. Maybe 2016 was just a really bad year in games just like how 2015 is a really bad year in anime. Maybe I was just too busy playing Smash 4 and Overwatch in 2015 and 2016 that I didn’t play anything else. I probably need to play more games that aren’t 2011-2020 big budget AAA games on a PlayStation, Nintendo Games, and Indie games. That does also feel like the big flavors of games tho. Maybe Kid Icarus just hurt me too much to want to go back to older games again, but I need to figure out how to like Metroidvanias. I don’t know if I can like Super Metroid without playing Kid Icarus, but can I even play Kid Icarus? Well if anyone ever reads this, I thank you for making it to the end. I hope to one day write things that mean more than this garbled mess. Maybe one day I will get a group of people together and divide the work up and have discussion that leads to an actually interesting Top 100 Games of All Time list.
My first real introduction to the Yakuza was someone describing the game as not sexist. Yakuza 0 had recently released in the west to widespread popularity, and all of a sudden a game series that had always been a detail I glanced over in announcement threads had become a college-appartmenthold name. The first and subsequent reccommendations I received for the game were all along the lines of “you have GOT to play Yakuza 0; don’t worry, it’s not sexist.” That’s really weird! While I do unfortunately expect most games to have some latent sexism in them, I would generally go around recommending games with “not sexist” as part of the pitch. Taking one look at Yakuza 0, and it becomes extremely apparent why it’s paired with this tagline. Several years later, I have finally played through both Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami, and I can declare the verdit: it’s not sexist. That doesn’t tell the whole story. Yakuza’s representation of women holds an extremely mixed bag that deserves to be address.
Yakuza 0 at a glance seems extremely sexist. This makes sense as to why the “it’s not sexist” caveat came with every recommendation. The game has you collect cards of scantily clad women, run cabaret clubs, watch women wrestle, I think there’s even an option to watch porn that I never did. To top it off, both Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami feature only two women in their central cast. It seems near impossible for a game this filled with classic scenarios that basically anyone would call pervy. The game decidedly doesn’t end up feeling like porn hub’s front page. I think in a sort of utilitarian way, Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami (hence forth collectively refereed to as Yakuza) end up falling into the category of “not sexist,” but it actually has high highs along with low lows.
Yakuza’s portrayal of sex work is extremely progressive. A disclaimer that I am not a sex worker, so my opinion isn’t as valuable as theirs on this topic. Sex work is everywhere in Yakuza, as you might expect in a series portraying, well, yakuza. A lot of games feature sex work, and most of the time it’s handled somewhere between neutrally and poorly. Yakuza actually manages to portray sex work in a positive light because it humanizes the sex workers. You get to interact with a large amount of sex workers throughout playing Yakuza, and they’re not just objects that men have acquired. These girls are actual characters, they help out the protagonist, have their own desires, and aren’t tied to their job. In Yakuza 0, one side story follows Kiryu helping a dominatrix gain the confidence she needs to perform her job. She sought out being a dominatrix because she wanted to improve her conviction, and she seeks Kiryu for advice on how to do that. Kiryu is happy to help and there’s no promise of sex after, he helps because he’s a good person. The game has a nice mini character arc showing this girl gaining the confidence she needs to navigate life, and it’s viewed through the lens sex work. In Yakuza Kiwami, part of the story has you tasked with finding where your injured patriarch is, and he has been entrusted to the care of a sex worker. The game treats this woman just as any other, she informs you to where your patriarch is, and then you fight some baddies invading the soapland. There’s a lot of characters like this in the game, and it’s refreshing that she’s one of the only ones who’s strictly on your side and helps you out. Throughout the game, you’ll find many examples of the game treating sex work as real work and sex workers as real people, like it should.
Yakuza’s cabarets also give great characterization to the girls who work there. While I won’t be talking about it, there’s also host club, and it’s nice to see both given important characters. Yakuza 0 starts off a bit rocky with showing some girls in a classic objectified scenario, Majima makes it clear that inappropriate conduct with his workers is forbidden and that this behavior is frowned upon. Your first quest as Majima also has you trading girls with another cabaret, but this is subverted when Majima values them as people rather than boiling them down to their looks. The game gives a lot of value to each girl, highlighting how hard they work and their different skill sets. This is shown further in the cabaret club managing sub plot. Yakuza 0 has you interact with cabaret girls and this is really where it shines. If it left it as valuing them for their worth rather than looks, it’d probably not be great, but luckily we get to learn about a lot of the girls who work there. Majima will have mock sessions with some of his workers, and you get to learn about their troubles and help them overcome them. I didn’t get to far into this section of the game, but from what I did play it was clear that these girls were probably more fleshed out characters than most of the main cast.
Yakuza Kiwami also has cabaret girl interactions, and it’s Rina plot is both a highlight of the game, and perhaps the most glaring fault. Rina is a girl a lot of players will meet accidentally when they’re trying to complete the Goromi quest. Drag Majima was no where near the shitshow a lot of cross dressing scenes are, and I’m glad I stumbled upon this character. Upon your first chat with Rina, you find out she’s a lesbian. I love this in general because it’s pretty rare to see gay characters in AAA games at all, let alone in this kind of context. Kiryu keeps requesting Rina every visit (you can’t request anyone else) and they even hang out outside the club. It’s really nice to see Kiryu be so progressive when it comes gay people, with him offering constant encouragement. There’s no prospects of anything other than a fun time talking with her, and talking with her genuinely feels like how my conversations about being gay go. Outside of a bad comment that men shouldn’t be allowed to wear make-up (they are and the ones who do rock it), pretty much all the conversations are great. I wish it could end there, but unfortunately there’s a big finale to this sub-story. In the finale, Rina ends up deciding that the girl she likes isn’t femme enough for her liking, and doesn’t ask her out. She feels like she’ll never be able to find a girl it’ll work out with, so she rather have the best man, Kiryu. Kiryu proceeds to tell her that she’s putting to much stock in butch vs femme and that if she really likes the girl as a person, it might work out better than she expects. This is good advice because while it’s totally fine to have a preference of femme or masc girls, if you like someone beyond that, then it’s worth following your heart. Rina takes the advice to heart, but then things turn for the worse. She decides that she still want a night with Kiryu, and they proceed to a love hotel. Questioning your sexuality and experimenting with a consenting partner you trust is also totally okay, but the game again doesn’t end there. The players are then “treated” to a first-person, live-action, not-sex scene. I think this ruins the finale. Her experimenting was a private affair the players weren’t invited into, and it feels bad that we get to see a lesbian lewd as a “reward” for pursuing her despite her sexuality. Rina then proceeds to proclaim she’s confident she only likes girls and maybe Kiryu should try being gay. There’s plenty of ways to see lewd girls in this game, heck this whole side story is right next to the strip club where you can see almost-naked girls pole dance. This was not the place for tease video, and it turned a very private moment public. Kiryu is not the player; you can only guide what he says between choices he would say, rather than speak directly for him. This was a personal moment between Kiryu and Rina, not the player. Rina’s storyline is still probably my favorite from Yakuza Kiwami, but I wish the developers skipped the “reward” for this plotline.
The place Yakuza stumbles in terms of sexism the most is it’s cast of characters. There’s only three prominent women featured throughout the two games, Reina, Makoto, and Haruka. Every other woman is either an optional side character or just in the story for a scene or two. Makoto and Haruka are both central to the plots of their games. I do like both of their characters, but I also wish they weren’t treated as objects by most of the cast. They both start off as helpless things in need of protecting who are worth large sums of money because of objects they own. Over the story they get more characterization, but I wish their starting point had already had some character to them. Reina is actually feels like a real character from the start, rather than an object turned into a character. Don’t get me wrong, Makoto is a badass by the end of Yakuza 0, and I love Haruka with all my heart. I don’t know how many women Yakuza there are in 1988 and 2005, but I imagine it’s at least more than the two we see. The two we do see, one is actually great as she is an extremely strong fighter who teaches Kiryu the beast style, which subverts the usual tropes for women fighting. The other is a doctor, which is also great. No one mistakes her for a nurse or thinks twice about her taking medical care of someone so important in such a stressful scenario. Why do the women end there? Just momentary glimpses that are great. The game is no where near realistic. Kiryu shoots down helicopters cars and manages to not kill anyone, is the star of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, takes down armies of men on his own, becomes a real-estate tycoon, and the list goes on. Even if you took a hard stance on the gender accuracy of the yakuza, there are tons of important, powerful characters that aren’t Yakuza, none of which are women. The exception might be Yumi, however most of the game she’s treated as a helpless girl. Kazama setting up the scheme grants her the momentary power, rather than something she built up herself. There’s tons of important characters from prominent club owners to underground informants who all could have been women. There’s an exception that “The Forger” is a women, and this moment is played as a plot twist, and the character only exists for maybe 5 minutes and has 3 lines total. I do know that in the most recent entry, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, there are two female party members. I don’t know what roles they play or how prominent to the story they are, but I am hopeful that this pushes the series in the right direction.
There’s plenty more examples of good and bad things, but I don’t think it’s worth getting into detail. I’ll list of a few things I mentioned earlier just to not leave them as loose ends. The telephone card collection quests I think ends up being sexist. You just collect pictures of naked girls, give them to a horny guy, and he gives you cash. The wrestling I don’t find sexist. The women’s outfits are pretty akin to what you imagine men’s outfits are. They show a lot of skin and vaguely provoke an idea. The women perform legitimate wrestling moves; it’s not like they just flail around. Yakuza also definitely has a problem with body diversity in women. The men of Yakuza have quiet a bit of body diversity across the cast, but adult women are all petite, great curves, light skin, very “conventionally attractive.” Body diversity is a problem in all media, and Yakuza doesn’t escape that problem.
The final verdict on Yakuza ends up being it’s not sexist. I wouldn’t go nominating it for any awards on women’s representation, but it does fair significantly better on average than a lot of other games. It might even be the AAA game with the best written lesbian where being a lesbian is central to her character and not just as a one off romance scene with the main character. I look forward to how the future games give further development to Haruka’s character (I assume she’s in them) and am hoping the series will surprise me with some more prominent women characters.