Alright folks, here it is. We’ve hit the last day of the year 2022, and it’s time for me to put together my list of favorite games that came out during this really impressive year. RPGs had a great year in general, including some that I haven’t played yet (like Elden Ring), and several major releases.
Like my other lists of this nature, this will only include games that initially released in 2022 (unlike last year’s list, which was just games I’d played that year). I also include any games that had their first major sale occur within this year, which loops in things like Metroid Dread (which was on the disappointments list). Nearly every game on this list has a review, save one which will have a review come up shortly.
Finally, these are judged primarily on the tilt factor, i.e. how I remember the game looking back. So the top games won’t simply be games that earned a perfect score.
First, the games that would be on this list if I hadn’t shifted to just focusing on games released this year:
Bloodstained – this one would be particularly unfair, as it’s one of my all time favorite Metroidvania games (partially because it was my first). Still an excellent game worthy of recognition, and a sign that sometimes Kickstarter games do well (though at least one of my top ten is a Kickstarter game too)
Death’s Gambit: Afterlife – I really wish that I could include this one. It’s probably the best non-Bloodstained metroidvania I played this year and probably would’ve landed in the top five otherwise. Great game that I can’t wait to replay (particularly as I’ve had a glut of mediocre to bad metroidvania games lately).
Stardew Valley – might have actually been my game of the year without the qualifications. This game truly lives up to the hype, and I’d recommend it to anyone who’d got the capacity to play it. Truly a masterpiece in gaming.
Blasphemous – as I’ve played more and more metroidvanias, I’ve come to realize how hard it is to get one that’s really good. Blasphemous is an exceptional game that utilizes imagery and ideas that aren’t seen in games frequently, and it’s well and truly impressive.
Fell Seal – this is the true successor to Final Fantasy Tactics and probably among the best tactical RPGs I played this year (though not as good as the one that made it to the list).
Griftlands – fun fact, when it came down to my Nintendo year in review, this game was one with the highest amount of hours played, with only my top pick of the year coming close.
Now, onto the list itself!
10 Ender Lilies
It probably says something about the quality of metroidvania games I played this year that the only representative of the genre is also one of only two games that get swept up in that “biggest sale” qualification that I shoved in there. To be fair, Ender Lilies did get played in 2021, but was played at the very end of the year, just missing the list.
The game absolutely nails everything I love about the genre. Exploration is rewarded both with lore and with expanding your suite of abilities. The story may be the standard “delicate child uses their forbidden powers to help save a dying world,” but it’s expertly told. I love that your powers are knights that you redeem, and this overall feeling of redemption is a great one to have. I played this game a year ago, and it still echoes as just a brilliant example of the genre (though Death’s Gambit and Bloodstained were both better).
9 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge
This game hit hard when it dropped, surprising a lot of people. Not only was it a game for a franchise that hasn’t exactly been overwhelmed with good games, but it was in a genre that many, including myself, thought all but dead: the beat-em-up. Shredder’s Revenge may have a dumb title, but it has excellent spritework and is a perfect throwback to times gone by.
But like any good retro game (of which there are several on this list), it does something new. Sure, the story isn’t all that engaging, but there’s a story mode with a fun map to interact with. Characters are dynamic and incredibly well animated, well beyond what was capable decades ago. It’s also a blast to play this with several people, and it can be enjoyed by all skill levels: I got the opportunity to play this with my parents, which not only felt like a throwback to my childhood, but was also just a great time. (I have not gotten a chance to play the Cowabunga Collection yet, but I’m hoping for some similar feels).
This game was a surprise hit that deserved that hit status.
8 Live a Live
I cannot believe this game wound up on some people’s worst lists. Put frankly: those people don’t get the game. I hate saying that, as it sounds snooty and/or elitist or what have you, but it’s true. Live a Live is about experiencing different stories that play homage to different genres. It’s not meant to be a thorough JRPG experience, but to be something that pulls together a lot of different ideas for an overarching narrative.
The Kung Fu chapter of this game may be one of my all time favorite gaming experiences this year (save for the rock and roll death battle in Alan Wake). It’s such a taut narrative, working gaming mechanics into the story in a masterful way. As if that weren’t enough, there’s the added ending to this game. Oh, and the twists and turns!
Plus the soundtrack just flatout slaps, with the main boss theme being a regular on my playlists. Truly an awesome game that deserves to be remembered and put on top lists, not bottoms.
7 Triangle Strategy
According to my Nintendo year in review, I spent the third most amount of time on Triangle Strategy. I don’t know why that surprised me: I played through every single one of the game’s four paths, including at least one of those twice (on my route to get to the true path). I know that some people complained about the lengthy story beats, and I’ll be among the first to admit that it gets a bit long, particularly in the beginning when they’re trying to get everything out there at once.
But like several critics before me, I compare it to Game of Thrones. The story is literally that deep and good, with political nuances, fantasy racism (the most wholesome kind of racism!) and engaging, dynamic, deep characters. It doesn’t hurt that the gameplay is also a lot of fun, with some great nuance and depth to its systems.
This was the best strategy RPG I played not only this year, but since Fire Emblem: Three Houses (and Fire Emblem games feel decidedly different than other strategy RPGs). I called this as potentially being a game of the year when it came out, and while some things did surpass it, it’s still winding up in my top 10.
6 Them’s Fightin’ Herds
I most certainly wouldn’t have figured that this game would wind up on my list, let alone beating out my hotly anticipated games like Triangle Strategy and Live a Live. Yet here we have a fighting game that seemed to realize that any game can be a person’s first fighting game. It comes with one of the most user friendly and engaging tutorials I’ve ever seen.
On top of that, the story goes way above and beyond. It details a complex world with interesting characters, roping in its combat mechanics in unique and engaging ways. The game probably could’ve coasted on its semblance to My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and the goodwill it gathered there, but instead it went an extra step to make one of the most polished games I’ve seen. I cannot wait to see where the story goes and how things continue (and to return to it and keep polishing my practice with my chosen main characters!).
5 Chocobo GP
I just saw a video with someone celebrating that this game is no longer getting updates. I totally understand that mentality (unlike the bashing of Live a Live). This game has severely predatory practices attached. It costs $50 full priced, but constantly begs you for microtransactions for things that should just be naturally unlockable. The season structure has been mixed at best, giving us only a few extra tracks (and no legacies).
But it’s still a really engaging kart racer. It’s a fun game that doesn’t really take itself too seriously, and to be honest, part of the reason I rank it this high is because my best friend got it for me as a surprise present and together we’ve dumped 40+ hours into it. It most definitely isn’t as good a game as Them’s Fightin’ Herds or Triangle Strategy, but for me it’s an experience I thoroughly enjoy.
4 Rise of the Third Power
It feels a bit like this game got forgotten after a few months. Not that I blame anyone: this was a crowded year with some truly great games, including several other solid retro throwbacks like this one.
But Rise of the Third Power had one of the most mature, engaging stories I’ve ever played. It had dynamic characters that saw change throughout a gripping narrative. It utilized a standard turn based structure, but added its own spin to how things are played and delivered. The idea of having a party level instead of an individual one is hardly new, but they did a great job delivering on it.
This game feels almost like it could stand shoulder to shoulder with some of the greats of the past, and proves that the company that made it is worth paying attention to.
(it also got bumped three spots while I was writing it, which may be the guilt of putting cartoony games so high).
Here’s the other one where that sale qualifier starts to loop things in. I missed this when it first released, and cursed not scooping it up then. Eastward was almost less of a game than an experience. It felt like its story had something to say, and every aspect of the game was incredibly well polished and balanced.
In fact, this game was at the top of my list for a while. But I recognized that part of why I was doing that is because my number 1 pick felt like selling out, and I hadn’t played the number 2 pick to completion yet. Plus I also remembered the aggravating glitches that dumped me out, and the horribly done stealth section that almost made me quit the game. It’s got flaws, yes, but it’s still a flawed masterpiece.
2 Chained Echoes
In the mentions of some of the earlier games, I talked about how they did this great job embodying how it felt to play older games. Most gamers who grew up during the Super Nintendo or Playstation era can’t go back and experience playing those masterpieces of the JRPG genre again for the first time. We’ve already played Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI-IX, Xenogears, etc.
Chained Echoes can stand right alongside any of those without flinching.
The game clearly borrows ideas from other places. It uses Chrono Cross’s start leveling system, but actually does something useful with it, allowing players to spend those stars to buy abilities. It tells a mature, gripping story that doesn’t feel like it was made solely for shock value. It incorporates things like mecha into the story in a way that feels natural. It’s well and truly a new masterpiece of the genre, and there’s a reason why everyone’s losing their minds over the game.
It’s also why this list got delayed until Dec 31, as I had to finish playing it and a few others (I have a backlog of like seven games to review).
Loyal followers of this blog and/or those in the know probably already know my top pick, but I’m still gonna delay with some honorable mentions:
Dark Deity – Chained Echoes actually bumped this game from the list! I’m shocked, as I totally expected it to land firmly in the top ten, since it was a game I Kickstarted (so was Chained Echoes), and it’s a great Strategy RPG. But the simple fact of the matter is that the other ten games on the list are better. Still an underrated gem, well worth checking out if you’re interested in the genre.
Alan Wake Remastered – this game gave me my favorite moment of the year: that crazy fight on a stage to the sound of butt rock. However, its incredibly uneven gameplay and too meta narrative hold it back from being truly impressive.
Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure – let’s face it, I have enough games on the list that are there primarily for my personal, emotional reaction to them. Even as I loved experiencing this game again, and marveled at how much better written it was than I remembered, I still acknowledged that the dungeon design was abysmal and the game was laughably easy. Still worth looking into, and I’m still glad I played it (and will play it again), but definitely not top 10 material.
Front Mission 1st Remake – I anticipated this remake for months, and it’s another that I wanted to finish before completing this list. It just barely missed the list, mostly because its initial story, involving Royd, a character severely in need of a renaming, wasn’t all that great. It also felt like it didn’t upgrade enough to be really impressive or worthy of the whole remake thing. Still eager for Front Mission 2 and particularly Front Mission 3 remake
Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth – if there was another metroidvania that got close to the list, it was this one. The story is absolutely bonkers (hence why it’s not on the list), but the gameplay was great and it felt in many ways like a proper homage to Castlevania Symphony of the Night.
1 Persona 5 Royal
Man, does this feel like a cop-out. I really didn’t want to put this on the top, as it was the top of everyone’s lists when it first came out on PS4. I eagerly anticipated being able to actually play it, and I was shocked to see it coming to the Switch (and with few problems).
It really is as great as everyone says it is, a landmark game that’s not only one of the best JRPGs I’ve ever played, but a game that’s probably among the best ever made. It took me over 100 hours to finish it, putting it in the top three games I played this year, but I seriously thought about restarting and playing the modified new game plus immediately after I beat it, if only to experience what I missed. A massive, thoroughly engaging game that just works on every level. Not quite the emotional masterpiece of Spiritfarer, but damn if it still isn’t worth every word of praise written or said about it.
This was a great year for games, particularly for the Nintendo Switch. There’s rumors of a new Nintendo Console coming soon (possibly a Switch Pro), and we already know that several games are just around the corner. Major releases like Fire Emblem: Engage and Octopath Traveler 2 are coming up (and their predecessors, Fire Emblem: Three Houses and Octopath 1 are my two most played games ever on my switch). There’s also some lesser releases in the pipe, like Sea of Stars and Front Mission 2 remake. I also know that a few metroidvanias should be leaving Kickstarter, so I’m hoping I’ll get to put more of those on the list.
I eagerly anticipate the new year’s games and experiences, and look forward to sharing them further with you!