With this year about to come to a close, many outlets and blogs will be reflecting on the games they’ve covered this year. The recent Game Awards gave us a glimpse of what a faceless panel of judges and voters considered to be the best that 2022 had to offer, shoved between commercials for a new Hades and Earthblade and whatever the heck Kojima is working on. For my own experience, the Game Awards didn’t have a lot to offer because I’d played so few of the games that were being discussed. I largely spent 2022 catching up on games from the past, thanks in no small part to owning a gaming computer for the first time since I was a kid. The 2022 games I did play were quite different from the celebrated AAA blockbusters that split nearly every category between them. For all these reasons the Game Awards didn’t really reflect my gaming experience in 2022 – but hey, that’s why I have my own website, right?
My reflections on 2022 will consist of a few different articles spread throughout the week. Today I’m reflecting on the titles I played to the finish, the games that resonated with me enough that I strove to see the credits. Later in the week I’ll be reflecting on the games I didn’t finish and why, as well as the many demos I tried and what titles I most anticipate for the coming year.
Some Basic Stats
In 2022 I played roughly 23 games from start to finish, although this counts games I played with my child in addition to those I played for my own sake. These games were played across the PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC, with a strong PC focus resulting from that being the new shiny thing in my house. I also had a lot of games on PC from the get-go thanks to previously purchased charity bundles, and of course many games are cheaper or even free on the PC. Still, the Switch was no slouch, although for the most part many of the strongest titles I played this year ended up being ones I played on the PC.
In terms of genre I don’t think anyone will be too surprised if you’ve followed me for a long time. There’s a solid mix of strategy games and RPGs, some of which are roguelikes, as well as a hefty dose of narrative games with varying degrees and flavors of gameplay within. A lot of games I played this year had a heavy focus on story and characters – you’ll find that the ones I enjoyed the most are the ones which explored unique ways for narrative and gameplay to interact. There were also inevitably some oddballs that don’t really fit cleanly into the other categories I’ve described.
Reflections, Not Awards
I titled this article intentionally to lean away from the idea of “awarding” particular games or ranking them within categories, though there will be clear favorites you’ll see stand out as we go. This is because many of these games – even the ones in similar categories – are doing something so different from one another that comparing them feels dishonest or unfair. I want to mention a lot of the games I’ve played this year and talk about what they bring to the table, but putting them in order from #23 to #1 sounds exhausting.
That said, I know some people benefit more from rankings, scores, and the like, so to satiate those looking for a more concrete “end of the year” article I’ll throw in a top five or something for you at the end. That at least feels somewhat more achievable, though there are some tiebreakers that may just break my brain if I think about them too hard.
A Year of Tactics Where I Barely Played Tactics
This year famously saw the release of a ton of different tactics games from start to finish. Games like Triangle Strategy, Mario + Rabbids Spark of Hope, DioField Chronicle, Marvel Midnight Suns, and plenty of smaller titles I haven’t mentioned saw releases this year. Celebrated tactics game Into the Breach got an update adding five new mech squads into the game. Despite all the tactics happening this year, I didn’t play very many tactics games at all, with two of the four “strategy” games I played this year actually being Warriors games with a strategy influence: the two Fire Emblem Warriors titles.
Both Fire Emblem Warriors games were disappointing to me in different ways. The first was the worst sort of fanservice; a bland, lifeless pandering devoid of unique storytelling that did one or two interesting things with the Warriors formula without really building on it in a meaningful way. And while Three Hopes did a good job of injecting the gameplay with Three Houses flavor, it dropped the narrative ball in its own distinct way from the first game. As much as I love Fire Emblem and as much as I know that the Warriors devs can create something truly special from their crossovers, this is a combo I would be happy to never see again.
I played a couple of different tower defense type strategy games this year, albeit in very different genres. One was Plants vs Zombies, which I played with my child. The other was 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, a mech combat game that is as much a visual novel as it is a strategy game. While tower defense has never been a particular flavor of tactics game that spoke to me, these two surprised me in their own ways. 13 Sentinels in particular – with its customizable mechs as well as pilots with unique level-up passives – gave my brain a lot to dig into. But there has been one strategy game this year that has outshone all the others and been a core pillar of my 2022 gaming experience: Wildermyth.
Wildermyth is a tactics game set in a world with procedurally generated narratives. Based on the personalities and relationships of your characters, they experience events that give them opportunities to transform in fascinating ways, gain animal companions, or discover powerful relics. These unique elements of your characters then combine with a relatively simple class system that has a lot of combo potential. Mystics make fire your hunters use to charge their arrows, warriors tear the armor off of big enemies that hunters then flank and backstab – good teamwork and making the most of the unique abilities of each hero makes Wildermyth a blast to play. While I beat the game early in the year, Wildermyth is one I’ve returned to multiple times in 2022 and look forward to continuing to do so in 2023.
I’m Going Rogue(like)
I don’t think of myself as one of those players that’s always evangelizing some kind of roguelike, but the more of them I play the more I am finding that the structure works really well for me. Perhaps no game made that clearer than Paper Mario: Black Pit, a fan game which took the core mechanics of something I love of recontextualized them using a roguelike structure. Black Pit challenges every aspect of your Paper Mario knowledge – overworld movement, enemy statistics, badge builds, combat timings – and demands those skills at a high level in order to advance your meta-progression and build a character who is fully capable of taking on the game’s most difficult bosses. Black Pit was the perfect blend of giving me something familiar with just enough of a twist to make it feel fresh again. It really demonstrated that I’ll respond positively to pretty much anything with a run-based structure if it’s executed well.
Speaking of well-executed roguelikes, this year Monster Train booted Slay the Spire out of my top spot where roguelike deckbuilders are concerned. Monster Train has a similar base structure to Slay the Spire but does a lot of specific things in ways that work better for me personally. There are more deck types and each run you have a primary and secondary clan for your deck, creating significantly more variety in the types of builds you can aim for each run. Having unit cards and spell cards scratches that TCG itch a bit better for me than Slay the Spire, as well as having different upgrades you can attach to cards of your choice rather than each card being locked into a specific upgrade option. Add on that you can adjust battle difficulty on a per level basis in exchange for greater rewards, and Monster Train is doing a lot that elevates it in my esteem compared to other games in the same genre.
Most recently the game scratching my roguelike itch has been Slice & Dice, a dice-based roguelike that’s somewhere between a turn-based RPG and puzzle game. Each turn, your monster foes roll dice to use moves and choose targets for those moves. You then spend your turn rolling and rerolling your own dice to create a set of moves to counteract the enemy’s, blocking their damage while damaging them in order to overcome them in battle. It takes some of my favorite aspects of Into the Breach and translates them into a new genre while also offering lots of cool, custom dice on top of a wide variety of items that change how those dice function. What I really appreciate about Slice & Dice is the wide selection of games modes that riff off of the core premise to make interesting new ways to play. They’re not just harder, they’re different, and that adds valuable variety to the game that helps keep me engaged over time.
Obligatory JRPG Segment
Just like tactics, the JRPG seems to be a genre I can never fully escape. I didn’t play a lot of JRPGs this year but the ones I did play were each solid in their own way, although in some cases they faltered deeply in others. Take the recent example of Pokemon Violet, a game that tries hard to push Pokemon into the future but does so at the cost of anything resembling technical competency. The main game is framey and struggles deeply with pop-in and unexpected glances into the void of the world through mountains or buildings, but the issues with Pokemon really start to become clear in the post-game tera raids. Despite these technical problems, Violet fights hard to move Pokemon into the future by offering a variety of story paths and the freedom to attempt them in any order you want. Though the open world leaves a lot to be desired, the game rewards exploration with arguably its most important resource – more Pokemon – and offers a straightforward path for beginners while challenging those who want to catch them all to scrounge the deepest reaches of the game’s world. It gets so close to being the best version of the Pokemon experience, while still failing to stick the landing.
While Pokemon tried to move forward, I started my movement backwards through the Persona series by picking up and playing through Persona 4 Golden. P4G definitely shows its age in some ways compared to Persona 5 Royal, but there were aspects of the game I thought worked pretty well. Most of these aspects were narrative rather than mechanical – while I do love the cast and story of P5R, the premise of P4G being focused on overcoming your own darkness and achieving power through self-discovery really resonated with me. I also found the murder mystery aspect of P4G as well as the final villain and their ultimate motivation to be more compelling for me compared to P5R. I enjoyed P4G enough that my concerns about going backwards through Persona have been alleviated enough to tempt me to try out P3P when it hits Switch and PC come January.
Most unique among the JRPGs I tried this year was Get in the Car, Loser! the roadtrip RPG by Love Conquers All Games. Get in the Car, Loser! focuses on a young goth woman whose best friend literally drags her on a road trip to destroy a demon called the Machine Devil, who is worshipped by a Nazi-like organization and is responsible for the death of a young activist. Rather than waiting for ancient systems to work and solve their problems, the young heroes take hold of their fight and take direct action now to change the world. Mechanically, GITCL uses a system inspired by Final Fantasy XIII and Valkyrie Profile (I think that’s the name) where each character has a role to play that changes as you move through ability sets in cycle that ends in a huge special attack. Your goal is to balance these roles such that the party stays alive and healthy while breaking the foe’s stagger meter, which then opens them up to big damage that is multiplied even further when using moves of a specific type. Each character is mapped to a single button, which makes battle very active as you spread moves out and attempt to time them well to minimize the impact of cooldowns, recover efficiently from damage, and consistently build stagger on foes. Both narratively and mechanically, Get in the Car, Loser! is definitely the most unique JRPG I have played this year, and I’m excited to see more of it once I dig into its DLC sometime next year.
One of the best parts of playing video games is listening to their soundtracks, and with almost two dozen games under my belt this year I have been spoiled for choice when it comes to my background listening. A few games I’ve already mentioned are worth mentioning again here. Shoji Meguro as always absolutely knocked it out of the park with Persona 4, with ‘Heartbeat, Heartbeak‘ and ‘Studio Backlot‘ staying permanently on my recent listens on YouTube music. 13 Sentinels had plenty of good songs to listen to but I particularly love the main menu theme fittingly called ‘Brat Overflow.’ Toby Fox assisted with the Pokemon Violet soundtrack and you can hear his influence in pieces like the Team Star battle theme, and I loved the gym leader theme for this game even more than the already-excellent gym theme from Sword and Shield. And Get in the Car, Loser! may very well win catchiest battle theme with ‘Spirit of the Times,’ a tune guaranteed to put pep in your step.
This year I was also fortunate to play two games with some of my favorite composers attached to their soundtracks. One was Chicory, featuring the lovely music of Lena Raine, of Celeste fame. Chicory was a charming little game that took me awhile to really get into but that I did ultimately appreciate by the time the credits rolled. The music was certainly an important part of that appreciation, with the song ‘Mountain Top‘ and the in-game circumstances surrounding it being one of the most noteworthy pieces of my experience. The other was Pyre, a game about magic sports that ended up really surprising me with the quality of its gameplay and narrative. And of course as a Supergiant title, the Darren Korb soundtrack certainly helped things along. As the tournament reached its climax during each in-game cycle, ‘Never to Return‘ served as a gorgeous backdrop to my match that was suitably charged and emotional for the in-game stakes my team was dealing with.
To say that I spent half the year primarily playing narrative games – various degrees of visual novel blended with some gameplay elements – would not be an inaccurate statement. From sci-fi to murder mysteries to sci-fi murder mysteries and more, I’ve dealt cards and rolled dice and played instruments and taken photographs and pointed-and-clicked my way through all kinds of compelling tales this year. In a way it’s unfortunate I’ve played so many at once, as in separate years some of these games would stand out uniquely as powerful examples of storytelling done well. All shoved into the same year, the most outstanding rise to the top while those that are still very good get perhaps less attention than they deserve. In my case, the ones that really stand out are the ones that are the most effective at using mechanics in partnership with the narrative, and making those mechanics as fun to engage with as possible.
At the low end of the spectrum, there’s NORCO, a game that I felt was quite solid and told a very impactful story quite well, but mechanically did nothing for me as a point and click title. NORCO is short and sweet but is most impactful when its mysteries are unsolved and speculation runs rampant. Close by NORCO I would place I Was a Teenage Exocolonist, a game that seemed right up my alley by blending choice-based storytelling, branching paths, and deckbuilding but which ultimately left me a bit dry as the conditions for the most unique endings were pretty esoteric and required way too many bland playthroughs to discover. Also in with this bunch I would place Toem, which perhaps has the opposite problem of being compelling enough mechanically with its photography puzzles but having a simple, low-stakes story that made it more of a relaxation game than a game that really left me feeling introspective. The games that stand out most to me are the ones I’m still thinking about well after I’ve finished them.
In the middling category of narrative games are titles that accomplished just that, but still didn’t have that something special from a mechanical standpoint. These are games that I think would have hit me harder had I played them in a different year with less competition. Night in the Woods is an older game compared to many I have mentioned but stands the test of time with its compelling characters and setting. There’s just enough weird about Night in the Woods to make it a touch spooky, but that spookiness is amplified by the grounded world in which the characters struggle with very real, very relatable problems. Then there was AI The Somnium Files: nirvanA Initiative, a game that’s certainly less profound than many of the titles I have mentioned but makes up for that with solid puzzles set in varied dream worlds called Somnium. Experimenting with different mechanics while trying to discover the truth behind the game’s murder mystery was a lot of fun, and as a sequel this game took characters I had already grown to love and built my affection for them even more.
The best narrative games, though, fired on all cylinders. These were games that not only had incredible stories but also backed up those stories with gameplay elements that were deeply fun to engage with, intertwining narrative and play in a way that feels like it is pushing the medium of video games forward. One of those games was a game from this year, Citizen Sleeper, in which you play a duplicated consciousness inside of an artificial body and attempt to escape from your corporate masters. On a ship called Erlin’s Eye, you learn that the best way to survive in this world is to become part of the community, and the connections you build are essential tools in surviving even the harshest negative outcomes that come from your rolls. The condition of your body and the amount of energy available to you determine how many dice you can roll per day, and the quality of those rolls determine your odds of success at your actions. Taking actions well advances clocks that, when filled, activate major story events that can help move your character’s life forward – or set them back in meaningful ways that are more interesting than simple game over states. The other narrative game that makes my highest tier, Disco Elysium, similarly uses dice and failing forward as mechanics that drive the narrative in interesting ways. But beyond those similarities, Disco Elysium is very much its own thing with a deeply detailed world and a cast of characters who are broken and lovable in their own tragic ways. Your character’s skills are voices in his head, guiding his actions in specific ways and defining how he sees and interprets the world around him. This leads to very different experiences on different playthroughs, as a smart and dexterous Harry solves problems quite differently than an empathetic and physical one. The world of Disco Elysium is weird, political, apocalyptic, and beautiful all at once. In the case of both of these games, the experiences I had within them left me dwelling on them long after I was finished, both as mechanical experiences and as narrative ones.
The Adventure Rules 2022 Top Five
With so many games under my belt this year, can I really just choose five to rank as the very best ones? I’m certainly going to try! I’ve played a lot of excellent games this year and it’s going to hurt to leave some of them off of the list, but if I consider the big picture rather than just focusing on individual facets I found fun or fascinating I can put together a list I feel pretty good about.
#5: Citizen Sleeper
A blast to play with lots of well-crafted dialogue and a story about community that feels particularly profound in our current capitalist hellscape. I love the TTRPG elements that drive the way this game plays so much. The effective use of countdown clocks is such a powerful way to offer consequences in a game, and the skillful use of failing forward to keep the narrative going so the player can choose the ending that is the most compelling for them makes the game a blast to complete. The short playtime and relative lack of replayability hold this one back for me.
#4: Monster Train
Slay the Spire who? Building my perfect deck has never felt this good. With five distinct clans to play with and so many ways to combine them, Monster Train takes what I love about roguelike deckbuilders and leans hard into the parts that work best for me. The runs are just the right length, the tools for adjusting difficulty feel like a better fit for me than what’s available in other games, and the variety of viable builds kept me coming back until I got at least one win with every possible clan combination – at least until I come back to this game with the DLC sometime in the future. Monster Train is held back on this list by being the best version of something I have ultimately experienced before, as opposed to offering a totally new experience.
#3: Slice & Dice
The most likely spot on this list to be impacted by recency bias, but I honestly think this will hold. Slice & Dice fits so well with the sort of challenges I look for in a game. With each class having a custom dice block and an abundance of unique items that are waiting for just the right situation to deploy, you can create so many cool builds that each run feels unique. This is helped along by an abundance of modes that change up gameplay. There are few things as satisfying as the rush that comes from seeing a turn forecast that looks unsolvable and then finding the perfect combo to prevent that forecast from coming to pass. Slice & Dice is an excellent roguelike but its lack of narrative keeps it from making it any higher up the list.
#2: Disco Elysium
Just the right combination of drama and comedy, a game whose story had me laughing out loud as well as experiencing the intense hopelessness of looking at a world where the potential for positive change has been crushed. Kim Kitsuragi is one of the best characters in gaming. But Disco Elysium is more than just story and characters. The way the skills function in-game creates such a unique experience, and it’s a blast trying to figure out how to solve with mystery with the tools available to your particular version of Harry. Rolling a fail is as exciting as rolling a success. Despite these mechanical features, Disco Elysium is a touch too story-focused to make the top spot for me. Although I wouldn’t argue that this game is significantly more profound, the number one game on my list is the one I actually played the most.
“Something in the woods is very strange.” Each run of Wildermyth builds up the mythology of your own personal Yondering Lands. Decisions are always rewarded with interesting outcomes and those decisions are remembered across generations, giving each character in your legacy a storied history you can reflect on and that feels personal and unique to you. As a tactics game, it keeps things simple but has enough variety to experiment with different builds as well as different combinations of class, transformation, and gear to build compelling units. The game’s six story campaigns are short, solid, and replayable, and the ability to play your own procedurally generated stories with characters new and old allows you to build the tales of your heroes over generations. Wildermyth was the reason I really wanted to get a PC that could run games, and the payoff was well worth the investment. I’ve been playing the game all year and will likely continue to do so into 2023.
I had a lot of positive experiences with games in 2022, and these are just the ones I finished! I’ll be talking more this week about additional experiences from over the course of the year as well as my hopes for the future, so I hope you’ll forward to more of Adventure Rules in review in the coming days. I’d love to hear from you in the comments about your own pick for the best game you’ve played this year.
Best game I’ve played this year? It has to be the 77p egg: Eggwife demo. The full game isn’t out until next year but, so far, I’ve played the demo for four hours and still haven’t got to the end of it yet. It’s such a fun combination of crude humour and inventive level design. It’s a bit of a throwback to boomer shooters of the late 1990s/early 2000s, stuff like Duke Nukem 3D and Postal 2. Hyperstrange acquired the distribution rights, so you may have seen the trailer if you watched Realms Deep this year. The concept is “stylistic suck”; it’s deliberately supposed to look a bit shit as a way of embracing the jankiness of a debut indie game.
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I haven’t heard of that one, but it certainly sounds interesting! I can certainly get behind a quirky lil indie game, I’ll have to look into that one.
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