It’s 21 for 2021 as Technobubble Gaming makes its top video game picks for the year once more.
In a year marked by a continuing pandemic and COVID-19 turmoil, it’s nice to know that you can still rely on good, old trusty video games to help get you through the tough times.
From action games and shooters to role-playing games and everything else in between, 2021 served up a nice selection of gaming options covering various genres.
So which games rose to the top as the cream of this year’s gaming crop? Here is a rundown of our top picks for the best 21 games of 2021.
21: Super Robot Wars 30
The first “Super Robot Taisen” game was released in Japan in 1991. Since then, the tactical strategy RPG series has been fulfilling the crossover dreams of robot fans from various generations by serving up popular mechs from decades of anime — not to mention the hot-blooded rock theme songs of JAM Project — for 30 years. Where else can you find robots from Mazinger Z, Getter, Voltes V and Gundam teaming up with mechs from Magic Knight Rayearth and Sakura Wars? Seriously. There really isn’t quite anything else like this series out there. The release of SRW 30 in localized form is also a big deal given how fans in the West had to import these games before. Here’s hoping that it marks the beginning of more cross-licensed games making it out of Japan and Asia.
20: Great Ace Attorney Chronicles
No objections, here. Six years after the spinoff series from the popular Ace Attorney franchise released on 3DS, the Great Ace Attorney games finally make it to consoles and PC via Great Ace Attorney Chronicles. Set in an earlier period when Japan first started to open its shores to foreigners, Chronicles adds a new spin to the Ace Attorney universe as well as new mechanics and much improved visuals. The game plays as part murder mystery, courtroom drama and visual novel all rolled up into one. Hilarious character animations combined with clever writing also make Chronicles’ narrative an amusing romp to go through.
19. Chicory: A Colorful Tale
Fancy visuals aren’t the be-all, end-all for great games. Sometimes, simplicity works well, too. Chicory plays like a coloring book come to life, featuring a black-and-white world that turns vibrant as you use your painting powers. The game also boasts classic gaming mechanics such as adventuring and exploration, puzzle-solving and even action via some creative boss fights. Add cute visuals and a touching story and Chicory will please folks looking for a unique and colorful experience.
18. Nier Replicant
One of the best things about the success enjoyed by the Nier: Automata in 2017 is how it renewed interest in its under-appreciated predecessor. A spinoff of the Drakengard series, 2010’s Nier took a unique and, at times, experimental approach for an action RPG in terms of presentation and mechanics as well as its split protagonists depending on whether you got the Replicant or Gestalt version. While the offbeat approach was polarizing for the time, the concept has aged surprisingly well — something that folks are now able to experience once more with this year’s Nier Replicant remaster. Don’t think this is a simple upscaling job, either. Kudos to the Nier team for going the extra mile by improving the combat, further fleshing out the story and creating new character models as opposed to just doing a simple cash grab remaster off of Automata’s success. This practically feels like a totally new game.
17: Atelier Ryza 2
Yes, this is actually a 2020 game. And no, it didn’t make last year’s list of best games. The reason it didn’t make the 2020 list, however, wasn’t because of its worthiness. The game was simply released too late in the year to give it proper consideration. Atelier Ryza 2, however, deserves special mention thanks to its addicting alchemy mechanic, fun chain-based combat and a charming world with likeable characters. If you like Japanese RPGs and happened to miss this one last year, Atelier Ryza 2 just might provide the alchemical reaction you’re looking for. Hey, better late than never, as they say.
16. Ratchet and Clank
Imagine getting a reliable, fun-to-drive sporty car from 2002 like, say, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. Now imagine said car getting repainted and updated with a fancy new body kit. That’s what you get with Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, which pulls double duty as a nice-looking technical demo for the PlayStation 5 while still having the underpinnings of those classic 3D action platforming games from the turn of the millennium. It’s like meeting an old crush who looks even better yet still has that familiar personality you know and love.
Dishonored meets Groundhog Day in another stellar outing by Arkane Studios. Deathloop has you playing as the assassin Colt, who finds himself stuck in a time loop that he can’t break unless he kills eight targets in one day before the clock strikes midnight. Yup, no glass slippers and pumpkin carriages here. The gameplay will feel familiar to fans of Dishonored and Prey, which mix first-person shooting mechanics with the use of powers and gadgets. Players also have the option of invading other people’s game sessions as the rival assassin Julianna. Just be ready to die and live another day. Or two. Or three. Or, well, you get the drill.
14. Little Nightmares II
Can a game be charming and creepy at the same time? That’s exactly what Little Nightmares II delivers thanks to another solid serving of platforming action combined with a big heaping of suspense and white-knuckle survival mechanics when things get hectic. Once again, you players take on the role of a young kid desperately escaping the creepy confines of a disturbing world. Think Prince of Persia minus the billowy pantaloons plus extra puzzle elements and a super disturbing vibe.
13. Final Fantasy 7 Remake: Intergrade
Last year’s pick for Game of the Year returns once more courtesy of the new content from Final Fantasy 7 Remake: Intergrade. Intergrade brings more of the same top-notch hybrid JRPG action from the base Remake game with the addition of everyone’s favorite kunoichi from Wutai, Yuffie Kisaragi. If you’re itching for some more Final Fantasy 7 action after finishing Remake or haven’t had a chance to play FF7 Remake on PS4 and managed to snag a PS5, this is a good chance to experience this excellent modern take on a beloved JRPG classic.
12. Psychonauts 2
Get ready for another round of Raz-matazz as Double Fine’s psychic extravaganza returns after a 16-year hiatus. Psychonauts 2 features the same witty writing that the original was known for while also boasting significantly improved visuals that give its world even more life. It’s like playing a Pixar movie. The brainy 3D action, meanwhile, remains on point with the usual platforming shenanigans combined with psychic abilities as well as great use of perspective and the game’s environments as part of the gameplay. It’s a doubly fine sequel indeed.
11. Death’s Door
It’s never a fun time when things don’t go well at the workplace. One day, you’re harvesting souls as a reaper for the Reaping Commission Headquarters. Next thing you know, well, you’ll need to play this engaging indie title to find out. Death’s Door is inspired by the isometric, top-down action games of yore, complete with familiar bells and whistles such as exploration and challenging boss fights. The game’s art direction is also quite memorable, displaying excellent use of color theory and levels that evoke an almost Maurits Cornelis Escher-type feel. As a former starving journalism major with a minor art, I heartily approve it.
10. Scarlet Nexus
Forget about twisting a fork with your mind. This brainy action RPG is one of the pleasant surprises of 2021. Play as one of two protagonists with power psycho-kinesis skills as they battle dangerous mutants known as the Other. Created by the same team behind Code Vein, Scarlet Nexus boasts really fun action mechanics that do a great job with incorporating basic combos with psychic abilities that turn items in your environment into weapons as well. Add the ability to borrow the skills of a variety of partners and temporarily turn them into your own and Scarlet Nexus is a blast to play, figuratively and literally.
9. Forza Horizon 5
Cars typically don’t have a kitchen sink. But that’s exactly what Forza Horizon 5 throws into the mix, creating a motoring masterpiece that hits the apex of the genre. The game basically has it all for driving game fans — a large vehicle list, great driving gameplay, several large regions to drive through and a lot of stuff to do. It also looks like a million bucks on all its platforms, whether it be PC (provided you’re not running it on a potato), Xbox Series X or S, or even the base Xbox One. Yeah, that same base console that came out way back in 2013. Honestly, the devs deserve a medal for how well the game looks on the Xbox One.
8. Resident Evil Village
Say hello to the game that sent Bayonetta co-designer Ikumi Nakamura to “horny jail” after her tweets about Lady Dimitrescu. Resident Evil Village represents an excellent fusion of old and new Resident Evil. While it adopts the new first-person approach of Resident Evil 7, there’s something about its world design, larger-than-life characters and overall feel that evoke classic Resident Evil as well. The game also features a good amount of content to plow through. Players who prefer over-the-shoulder Resident Evil action and aren’t quite sure about the horror shooter’s switch to a first-person perspective for its main line titles should give Village a shot. It’s scary good.
7. Lost Judgment
Not that many folks are able to parlay a stint on a popular boy band into a big acting career. But that’s exactly what former SMAP member Takuya Kimura — affectionately called by his Japanese fans as “Kimutaku” — has done. Starting in 2018, Kimura’s acting work also now includes playing the main character in Yakuza series spinoff Judgment, which takes the familiar thug battling and underworld drama of Sega’s popular franchise and adds a legal spin to it courtesy of its ex-lawyer protagonist. The sequel Lost Judgment adds even more to the formula, including a plethora of side quests to sink your detective teeth into. If you like classic non-RPG Yakuza, this’ll be your cup of matcha.
6. It Takes Two
About half of marriages — at least in the United States — end up in divorce or separation. That’s exactly the problem faced in It Takes Two by couple May and Cody, who have grown apart from the challenges of married life and parenting. That is, until a talking book with Don Juan DeMarco vibes turns them into dolls and forces them to work together to survive several Herculean labors to get back to their daughter and their original bodies. A variety of gameplay mechanics that change with each stage keep things fresh while excellent writing and voice acting give life to the couple’s story. By the time the journey is over, you’ll feel quite sad to separate from yet another Hazelight classic.
5. Monster Hunter Rise
When it was first announced that Capcom was working on a new Monster Hunter game for the Switch, many folks expected an upgraded version of the old games as opposed to the technical marvels Monster Hunter World and Iceborne. Boy, were they wrong. Although not as visually detailed as its immediate predecessors, Monster Hunter Rise manages to squeeze every drop of performance from the Switch by serving up a gameplay experience that’s surprisingly close to World. It also adds even more mobility thanks to Wirebugs and new skills that harken back to the series hunting arts from Generations. If you’re itching to experience the series challenging action on the go once again, Monster Hunter Rise does not disappoint.
4. Metroid Dread
If you build it, they will come. Like returning old baseball players coming out of a cornfield, Metroid Dread is proof that classic Metroid gameplay still has an audience in this day and age. Nearly three decades since fans last played a 2D, side-scrolling Metroid game on the TV screen, the classic formula makes a real and spectacular return on Switch, complete with a shiny new coat of paint and mechanics. Metroid Dread features the same action and corridor mechanics that Super Metroid fans will remember while adding some of the neat features from the series’ 3DS side-scrollers such as counters. The result is a new classic for old fans and a new generation alike.
3. Tales of Arise
When a Tales game gives you the same good vibes you remember from playing Symphonia and Vesperia, then you know that it’s a great Tales game. Tales of Arise features the latest iteration of the fun, hybrid action-JRPG combat the series is known for combined with a significant step up for its visuals and presentation that make it feel like a next-generation game. The story, meanwhile, doesn’t shy away from controversial topics that take a deep look at the human condition and are still relevant to our times. It’s easily one of the best entries in the long-running Tales series.
2. Monster Hunter Stories 2
It’s surprising that this happens to be the Monster Hunter game that actually takes the No. 2 spot. But Monster Stories 2 was such a joy to play while also providing a uniquely different experience. It’s even more surprising that Monster Hunter’s monster-riding JRPG spinoff actually got a sequel given how underappreciated the first game was. Instead of killing the franchise and moving resources to more profitable titles like bigger game companies tend to do, however, Capcom poured even more effort to improve the sequel and address the original’s issues. The result is a wonderful game with fun gameplay, charming visuals and a touching story that just might make you shed a tear or two. It’s one of the surprises of 2021, for sure.
Game of the Year: Shin Megami Tensei V
The Persona series gets so much attention and kudos — and deservedly so — that it’s easy to forget the franchise that started it all. That would be a mistake, however, as Shin Megami Tensei is a devilishly good series that stands on its own as well.
A more somber opera compared to Persona 5’s jazzy vibe, Shin Megami Tensei V’s preference for post-apocalyptic examination results in a more introspective experience for players who find themselves exploring its ruined world. Minutes, meanwhile, can quickly turn into hours for players who fall deep into the rabbit hole of demon recruiting and fusion combined with a wide range of subquests to undertake. Add its simple yet deceptively deep combat system based on exploiting weaknesses and you have a game that has the full package.
Persona 5 barely missed out on Game of the Year in 2017 when we picked the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as our top game and the Atlus JRPG got the No. 2 spot. Four years later, Shin Megami Tensei V finishes the job by earning our top pick as game of the year for 2021. It’s not just one of the best games of the year, it’s one of the best games ever.
Jason Hidalgo covers business and technology for the Reno Gazette Journal, and also reviews the latest video games. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhidalgo. Like this content? Support local journalism with an RGJ digital subscription.