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Writer's Choice: Our Favorite Games of 2021

Writer's Choice: Our Favorite Games of 2021 - Article

by Paul Broussard , posted on 02 January 2022 / 4,428 Views

Finalize those resolutions and launch whatever fireworks you can find conveniently lying around - a new year is here. Like most gaming sites, though, before we fully move on we take the time to crown the most noteworthy (for better and worse) games of the past year. This year we decided to add in something different. Before we unveil any awards we thought we'd take a look back and discuss some of our personal favorite games that released last year. With that in mind, here are seven VGChartz writers with what they considered the best game from 2021 and why.

  

Alex Bailey

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles

With the release of The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles this year, it feels as though Ace Attorney fans have finally reached the light at the end of a five-year-long tunnel. After a drought with nearly no information about the future, Capcom has brought some of the finest games in the franchise outside of Japan. New gameplay mechanics like Herlock Sholmes’ Dances of Deduction are flashy and entertaining, and examining multiple witnesses at once brings much-needed development to the Ace Attorney formula.

While great soundtracks and charming casts of characters are hallmarks of the franchise, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles exceeds expectations on both fronts. The more instrumental score lends great strength to the British setting, and the cast feels refined, with a new focus on dynamics and relationships rather than individual gimmicks.

Its narrative is also one of the finest in series history, as well as gaming in general. Being spread across two games gives the story room to stretch its legs and truly tie everything together, in a similar vein to the legendary original trilogy of games. However, the localization team deserves just as much credit here as the writing team. Despite being set in London, The Great Ace Attorney was notoriously hard to localize, but the team did a fantastic job keeping the script faithful to the original (Janet Hsu has a handful of posts regarding localization and development of the game on her page at Capcom-Unity). The team went into painstaking detail to do so, using actors in the UK for the game, and crafting each character’s accent to match their background and dialogue, and The Great Ace Attorney feels much more authentic for it.

As a long-time fan of the series, playing through The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles made me feel extremely optimistic about the future of Ace Attorney. However, what’s truly exciting about The Great Ace Attorney is that it’s a fantastic entry point for new players. After six mainline games, a related spin-off series and a crossover, I feel as though some may be intimidated trying to get into the series. Here, there’s no catching up to do; it’s a natural, fresh way to experience everything Ace Attorney has to offer, and I couldn’t recommend it enough. For fans of the series and gamers who have never tried Ace Attorney alike, The Great Ace Attorney is absolutely worth your time.

  

Christian Evans

Metroid Dread

With Metroid Samus Returns blasting onto 3DS in 2017, rays of hope shinesparked in the brains of long-suffering Metroid fans; that after a long hiatus, we may yet see a new mainline 2D entry this century. At E3 we were beaming when Nintendo announced Metroid Dread, before moving towards quiet trepidation over whether Mercury Steam could deliver a worthy new entry in the series. Upon release, this fear instantly vaporized, instead manifesting itself within E.M.M.I zones on the planet ZDR, where indeed feelings of dread are palpable. 

The atmosphere in Dread oozes everything a Metroid game needs; it sounds, looks, and feels exquisite, while using it all to flip between tension and relief on a dime within moments of pure exhilaration. Buttery smooth movement, merged with improvements to combat actions, result in an organic unity and make it a real joy to control Samus (a necessity for the trickier puzzles if going for the 100% item run). Combat can be tough, but never unfair, as you learn the rhythms and attacks of enemies (and their weaknesses), while exploring the various ecosystems and alien complexes, which themselves are meticulously designed.

And despite the intricate nature of traversal and exploration, sequence breaking is possible - a concept not lost on the developers, who went to the trouble of including hidden cut-scenes if you happen to execute an ability you shouldn't really have acquired yet on a vulnerable boss. As a fan, Dread is everything I could have wished for a new Metroid game to be, destroying all competition on its way to being my game of the year. 

  

Craig Snow

Diablo II: Resurrected

I'm not sure I can adequately put into words what makes Diablo II such a compelling game. For many years it was pretty much the only game I played (alongside StarCraft: Brood War - Blizzard’s original magnum opus). I moved on, eventually, and quickly worked my way through an impressive backlog of titles that I’d missed out on during those years of myopic semi-addiction. Many of them were excellent, but they were all so… frivolous and superficial in comparison; to be played for a dozen or so hours, completed, and then left to gather metaphorical dust.

Not so with Diablo II, a game with such deceptive depth and so many different gameplay systems & open-ended goals that to have spent 1,000 hours playing it is to have barely scratched the surface. It was magic in a bottle. Magic that Blizzard would prove incapable of reproducing with Diablo III.

No game is perfect, though, and as the years went on Diablo II’s flaws become more obvious: it had become absolutely hideous (built as it was for the pre-HD era of low resolution monitors); the online games and trading system were infested by bots; and so many quality-of-life (QoL) improvements had been made to the original formula by imitators that it was often difficult to return to Diablo II’s old school sensibilities.

The mod scene rectified many of these issues, but not the biggest ones. Diablo II: Resurrected did. It looks superb; hundreds of the best QoL improvements were incorporated into it; the trading economy is vibrant & healthy; and crucially it was handled with such reverence & respect by the development team that it should make the original Diablo III dev team blush with shame.

It’s far from perfect, even when one looks beyond the short term annoyances caused by server issues. The game list and lobby systems are archaic messes that are worse than those found in the original Diablo II, for example. But post-launch support has been continuous, so there are strong hopes that these final major problems will be fixed. Whether the team, which recently announced plans to also alter core gameplay and add new items (runewords), can continue its winning streak going forwards remains to be seen, but as of today Diablo II: Resurrected is an almost-excellent remaster of the best game I have ever played. That comfortably makes it my favourite game of 2021.

  

Evan Norris

Metroid Dread

Looking back, I was foolish to doubt Metroid Dread. It had been almost two decades since the last original 2D installment, and the gaming landscape — particularly the landscape of Metroidvanias — had changed a lot in the intervening years. I wasn't sure Dread could keep pace with some of the great indie Metroidvanias that had arrived in the past eight years, including one, Ender Lillies: Quietus of the Knights, that launched only four months prior. Moreover, I didn't entirely trust MercurySteam. 

To quote Thorin Oakenshield, "I've never been so wrong in all my life."

Dread is absolutely brilliant — a tour de force Metroidvania that deserves mention alongside the greats. I could wax poetic for paragraphs about its thick atmosphere, its beautifully dreadful music, and its silky smooth gameplay, but what I find most impressive about this latest Metroid title is how it keeps one foot rooted in the past and, at the same time, speed boosts its way into the future. This is a game that pays homage to its own mythology, with musical cues, enemies, and visuals that hearken back to the founding days of the franchise, but it's also a game that feels experimental, new, and surprisingly ambitious. There's nothing safe about Dread, and in an industry where, until now, the indie Metroidvania scene had passed Metroid by, that's exactly what it needed.

   

Lee Mehr

It Takes Two

I had the privilege of reviewing It Takes Two already and it's remained my defining game of the year.  Whether it's reminiscing on the polished chess mini-game against my co-op partner – reinvigorating my interest in that game too – or continued discussions across the web, I enjoy thinking about it and revisiting it through someone else's perspective. It's with good reason too: the effusive energy Hazelight poured into each co-op idea felt limitless throughout the whole campaign.

Two's story has been subject to some critiquing, including on a gaming podcast I follow, but many stated grievances miss the mark.  Granted, the two protagonists wouldn't be my first choice for a 10+ hour adventure game; and yet, they work in the context of this story.  Their collective selfishness early on works because of their current mindset during such an extraordinary situation.  They don't have clean, easy flaws, and I think they're better for it.  Writers Soni Jörgensen and Josef Fares took a creative gamble on them and it paid off in spades.


I could regale a bunch of other positives too, but what makes Hazelight's latest so great is the potential it shows for middle-market (AA) games during this new generation.  Modern tools and earnest creativity can easily outshine the biggest budgets.

  

Thomas Froehlicher

Tales of Arise

When reviewing my gaming year, I couldn't help thinking how Tales of Arise stands out. I played the latest JRPGs from some of my favorite studios, notably Neptunia X Senran Kagura Ninja Wars, Atelier Ryza 2, Blue Reflection Second Light, & Caligula 2, and all left the most terrible impression. Of course, none of the studios behind those titles are big enough to even hope to rival Tales of Arise. But what disappointed me most was the lack of will and passion behind those other games, as if the developers didn't even care to make a solid JRPG in the first place, or didn't care whether or not players would find the content appealing. They are shipping copies, nothing more. 

Bandai Namco probably could have made an average game and relied on the franchise's name to ship a decent number of copies, but the company didn't do that. Tales of Arise revives the golden age of JRPGs by pushing the boundaries of the genre. Splendid graphics and animations, an epic story, fantastic characters... everything screams dedication and passion to the player. Making an entertaining JRPG isn't a matter of how big you are or how much money you put into the game. In my view, it's more about what you want the player to experience, and the determination to stick to that ideal while not forgetting the core values of the genre. In a world where some studios start to bend the rules to reach a "greater audience", or lower their effort in order to maximize profits, the traditional approach behind Tales of Arise should be cherished.

  

Paul Broussard

Metroid Dread

Recency bias is unquestionably a factor in how we perceive video games, especially very close to launch. That's particularly true for a game so long in the making and anticipated as Metroid Dread; it can be tough to admit at first that something didn't quite live up to your expectations. When I originally reviewed Dread for VGChartz in October, I was a little tentative in scoring it as highly as I did, uncertain if I might be being impacted by recency bias as well. I think it's a testament to how well Dread is designed that the inverse has happened. If anything, I've wondered if I should have scored it higher. 

It's tough to come up with anything to say about Dread that Christian or Evan haven't said yet, but I'll try. Along with the incredible movement, spectacular and challenging boss fights, rock solid tension, and quality-of-life improvements that have already been mentioned, Dread has similarities to Super Metroid in that it really becomes more open the more familiar you are with it. The sheer flexibility that the game provides with how you can obtain items and beat the game in a myriad of orders is impressive. The last EMMI being a pain? Go grab an extra movement tool and zip on by. Worried about a boss that gave you a rough go on the first try? Go grab a late game power-up and trash it. And what Dread does well, like Super Metroid, is demand familiarity with the mechanics before you can do this. In short, it's one of those rare titles that remains balanced well for new players while allowing a great deal of freedom for veterans. 

As a group of writers, we tend to disagree a lot on what makes a quality game, which I think is good. Different viewpoints are valuable for any group. I think this also means it's all the more impressive when a game comes along that so many of us think is exceptional. The fact that three different reviewers thought Dread was worth writing about speaks volumes to the quality on display. This is, in my opinion, the best game available for the Switch, and I think you'd be doing yourself a serious disservice to not try it if you own the console.


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7 Comments
Greenfox (on 02 January 2022)

Did someone say Metroid Dread?

  • +4
xMetroid (on 02 January 2022)

Great selection ! Love to see D2R

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Kakadu18 (on 02 January 2022)

That's alot of Metroid Dread love here.

  • +4
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Jaicee (on 02 January 2022)

Hey, just wanted to stop by and say that I thought Christian's write-up on Metroid Dread was particularly well-crafted and fun to read. :-)

Personally, I'm with Lee in rooting for It Takes Two a little more though and hope more people will give it a chance because there are so many refreshingly new and ingenious concepts therein that it's completely transformed my opinion of co-op game play itself! I discovered it thanks to this very site when someone here recommended it to me in the Sony Discussion forum after I'd mentioned just recently getting a PlayStation 5 and requested some recommendations. It Takes Two wound up being one of my first purchases for the system and the most roundly new, positive, and defining gaming experience I've had all year.

But I won't be disappointed (or surprised) if Metroid Dread wins here instead. It's my favorite new Metroid entry in what seems like ages and it absolutely has earned the love it's being given!

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