The new year is underway and while our feeds are full of exquisite Bernie in mittens memes, I find myself reflecting back a bit on the adventures I undertook last year. 2020 was quite the powerhouse in terms of RPG releases, so after I lost my main job in March, I had plenty of time to experience these games. Here are my top 10 RPGs from 2020!
10) Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire – Ultimate Edition
While the PC version didn’t release this year, my first time sailing the high-seas in PoE2 came in 2020 when it was released on the consoles. Pillars of Eternity 2 scratched that CRPG itch I had back in January of 2020. Riding the waters as the dashing Captain Jack VanderSmack, taking on raiders and swooning ladies as I chased after an ancient god was a grand old time. The main detriment to this game though was the absolutely HORRENDOUS load times, and had it not been for that, Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire probably would have found itself higher on my list.
9) Nioh 2
I love loot-heavy games, I love magic-y things, and I loved the first Nioh, so when Nioh 2 was released, I was on board from day one. Every aspect has been improved in the sequel, from the story, the gear, character customization, and what was most important to me, the multiplayer.
There is a surprising amount of depth to the combat. Swapping weapon stances and managing resources would give even Souls-fans pause. The complexity deepens when you then consider that each weapon type features its own skill tree and abilities, making each feel very unique and far from a cookie-cutter copy. In truth, if given the option between playing Nioh, Sekiro, or Ghost of Tsushima, I’d pick Nioh any day.
Cross Code was probably my biggest surprise when it came to RPG experiences in 2020. Watching trailers it was clear to say that it looked good, but after playing it, it was clear to see that there is something special in this indie title. Going into the game I knew rather little, just that it was an RPG. What I hadn’t anticipated were the intricate puzzles, large skill trees, fun characters, and all the easter eggs and nods to old games. If you are a fan of RPGs from the 16-bit era, I highly suggest you check out Cross Code.
7) Xenoblade Chronicles – Definitive Edition
After attempting to play through the first Xenoblade title a few times before, I gave it one more try with the new Definitive Edition on Switch and I finally get what people love about this game. The technical marvel of Xenoblade was never lost on me. The fact that such a beautiful sprawling world could be done on the Wii still amazes me. The refined visuals, better performance, and quality-of-life improvements found in the Definitive Edition help me break those barriers that stood previously and I love what this game does. There is so much here to process and the nods and winks to a larger connected narrative with its sequel, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, have me giddy with excitement over the future of this series. With one of the best soundtracks in an RPG of the past decade, Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition is a must-play for Switch owners who are searching for an epic tale. Don’t feel like you need to do all the sidequests though.
6) Trials of Mana
Fans waited a long time for an official release of the third Mana title, originally released on the Super Famicom, even going so far as to take it on themselves to translate the game on their own. Then in the span of two years, not only did western fans get an official localization in last year’s Collection of Mana, but also the complete 3d remake of Trials of Mana this year! Brand new renditions of classic tracks, a faithful transition of the 2D art into 3D, and an updated battle system drew me in. There are no doubt issues with the game, the incredibly inconsistent voice recording quality for example. I still thoroughly enjoyed my time with Hawkeye and company and the post-game content in Trials of Mana. My hope is that it will do well enough and we will get a brand new entry before long, as this is one series that deserves to make a return.
5) Demon’s Souls
My start with the “Soulsborne” genre was with the original Demon’s Souls on the PlayStation 3, and what Bluepoint has done with this remake is astounding. This game is still one of the very few games that legit feels “next-gen” to me. With its gorgeous visuals and buttery-smooth gameplay, it was hard to not stay up for days straight just playing this. All the special moments I remembered fondly during my very first playthrough all those years ago were just as my rose-tinted memories remembered. I love this game, I loved the time I spent playing together with our own Alex O’Neill, and I love that more folks can now see the origins of this now popular genre of game for themselves. Demon’s Souls is a game worth being played.
4)Dungeons and Dragons
2020 was the year I fell madly and deeply in love with Dungeons & Dragons. I had played and immensely enjoyed it for years, but it wasn’t until the quarantines during the pandemic and missing my friends that D&D became so much more for me. My weekly online session became the only aspect of my week that I could genuinely look forward to. I could always look forward to Tuesday nights when I could escape the Covid-ridden world and instead explore as a mentally-fractured Elf Warlock who thought he was a Paladin, and later my Warforged Artificer who had no grasp on sarcasm. I now play in two games weekly, one as a player and the other as the dungeon master in my unique creation of the world of Tel’Theda. I love rolling dice so, so much.
3) Persona 5 Royal
Persona 5 continues to be one of the best JRPGs of the past decade, and will more than likely be looked upon in the future as kindly as Persona 4 or a Final Fantasy 6. This new Royal edition does nothing but strengthens those claims and the game’s grasp on greatness. Retaining the same mind-blowing soundtrack, vivid and striking aesthetics, and delicious turn-based mechanics, Persona 5 Royal is a rockstar. The only reason that this game is not number one on my list is simply that 100 hours of it was a story I had already experienced. If you are so inclined and want a deeper dive into my feelings on Persona 5, I suggest you read my game of the year list from 2017, where it took the number 1 spot (interestingly enough, 2017’s list also saw a Xenoblade, Final Fantasy, Nioh, and Persona game on the list too. Huh, go figure). While aspects of the new semester didn’t do as much for me as the main story semester, it was still an intriguing and exciting addition that only made the game better. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait a decade until Persona 6.
2) Final Fantasy VII Remake
Man…so this actually was released. It turned out the Final Fantasy VII Remake wasn’t simply an elaborate ruse by Square Enix and is in fact a great game. Part of me still can’t believe how good this game actually ended up being. From the interesting new characters to the expanded lore and history of existing favorites, FF7R was an absolute joy to play. I loved exploring the fleshed out slums, seeing what the updated Wall Market had to offer, and everything Honey Bee Inn. The ending may have left some players divided, it was still action-packed and cool. I fall on the side of it being good, but I’m cautiously optimistic in how it will affect the future narrative. I hope that we get some sort of teaser or trailer for the next installment this year, but the more reasonable side of me thinks nothing will be talked about or shown until after Final Fantasy XVI releases, as to not rob the spotlight from it. With the PlayStation exclusivity deal ending in just a few short months, I look forward to this game being on my 2021 list as well with the enhanced PS5/XS/PC port that will no doubt release.
For a deeper dive into my love for this game, check out our discussion videos, here, and look forward to an upcoming RPG University episode too!
1)The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 4
I will never tire of singing the praises of these games, and with Trails of Cold Steel 4, I was treated to one of the most intense and exciting RPGs I have ever played. This game marks the result of eight previous games worth of characters, story, and lore, all culminating in events on a scale that few in any other series can claim. That said, do NOT start with this game. While I think you could still have fun playing it, you will be lost and confused by what is happening. In an ideal situation, if you have time, I would start with The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky FC, followed by SC and Third, move on to the fan-translations of Trails From Zero and Trails to Azure, and then the Trails of Cold Steel Saga. If that is a bit much, playing through just the Cold Steel arc will still offer you a lot of wonderful moments and enough wow moments in Cold Steel 4.
I laughed, I was shocked, and when the credits rolled and it said that this story was over, I cried a bit. The members of Class VII grew to be family after the 400+ hours I spent with them, and all the supporting cast are friends. I hope we get localization announcements soon of the next game and the remasters of the older games because I need more of this world.
2020 was a great year for RPGs and with a large amount of time I had on my hands, were great escapes from the outside world. This new year of 2021 looks to continue the trend of amazing adventures with the likes of Bravely Default 2, Shin Megami Tensei 5, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, and more! As Professor RPG, you can bet I’ll be sinking my teeth into them too! Be sure to check out each new monthly Syllabus episode of RPG University to help stay up-to-date on each month’s new RPGs, releasing on the 1st of every month!