Ahh! My first “Top 10 Games” post for Kotaku, so exciting! Arriving here has fundamentally changed my relationship with gaming. I have a lot more time to play a lot more brand-spankin’ new games, versus the slow arrival to already well-beloved titles that was typical of my pre-Kotaku life. So if you see some non-2020 games like Witcher 3 and Bloodborne on the list, understand that they’re the games I belatedly discovered this year. I also realize I’m probably going to say, “I’ve never played an ‘x’ game before” a lot. Well, this is what happens when your hobby becomes your life—everything is new to you—but I’m looking forward to writing another top ten next year when this list will hopefully have a lot less firsts.
I came super late to this one. I think seeing the Complete Edition on sale for a paltry $15 dollars (likely in conjunction with the arrival of the Netflix show) inspired in me the spirit of, “Fuck it, let’s see what all the fuss is about.” The fuss was rightfully earned. I loved the story and characters and I enjoyed how the game felt big but not too overwhelming. It’s not that I never believed any of my friends when they told me, “You’d like The Witcher 3,” it’s just that I’m stubborn as hell and like discovering things in my own time. I think that’s what I enjoyed the most about playing it. Yes, I knew that millions of other people enjoyed and praised this game to the heavens, but finding it so late like I did—five years after initial release—felt like discovering something new and secret that was just for me.
I enjoyed Persona 5 when it first came out in 2017. I loved the characters and art design and I really loved the music, but I never had the time to actually finish the game. When Royal released in March of this year, I got my second chance to experience Persona 5, this time distraction free. Before coming to Kotaku, I had a desk job working for the people who made hand sanitizer that starts with “P” and rhymes with “Jor-el.” I’d barely been there four weeks before they initiated the pandemic’s work from home policy. They sent me home with a laptop and less than a month of training, so what’s a girl who can barely do her job to do? Play a shit-ton of Persona 5 Royal. The game became my new job and I would legitimately play for a full eight hour work day, stopping only to answer emails or do one of the two tasks I could without the assistance of my supervisor/trainer. Persona 5 Royal absorbed my every waking moment in the first months of the stay at home mandate and became my go-to coping mechanism eclipsing even Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
Even though this game was released 28 years ago, I’m counting it as a 2020 GOTY purely because it was released this year as a part of the Super Nintendo collection of games on Nintendo Switch Online. Never having played a Picross game before this one, my partner got sucked into and I swiftly followed. It became our couch game. No matter what we were doing, if we were on the couch, it was Picross time. Though the game is single player only, it was the best co-op game we’ve played this year. We helped each other with puzzles, commiserated whenever we failed, and had constant battles over the correct pronunciation of Picross—I don’t care about how the “pi” in Picross stands for “picture,” it’s “pie” damnit.
I finally played my first Soulsborne game this year and I’m glad it was Bloodborne. Curiosity overrode my general aversion to the “hard on purpose” style of games From Software was known for. Bloodborne was the best fit for my desire to play a newbie-friendly Soulsborne with an accessible story. It predictably kicked my ass, but after overcoming Father Gascoigne, I never had that much of a problem with the rest of the bosses. Bloodborne was so good that I’ve been chasing that same challenging but rewarding feeling ever since, to no avail.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons earned its reputation as the poster child for pandemic gaming. It’s a perfect open-world social game for first-time gamers. It’s more structured than other open-world games like Minecraft, while still offering the kind of blank-slate options that have allowed people to go on dates, have parties, political rallies, and even conduct sex work business. It’s cute and calming—two emotions that were in critical demand when the game released right at the start of nationwide stay-at-home mandates. It’s like Nintendo’s scientists engineered a way to deliver prescription-free Xanax in video game form. I never played an Animal Crossing game before, but I didn’t think twice about getting New Horizons when I got my Switch earlier this year.
This game has far too much heart in it for it to be called “Yakuza.” When I hear the word, I think of gritty, violent men who cut off pinky fingers for their boss, not a guy who helps sex workers and lost children during his de facto job as his community’s police alternative. What’s so great about Yakuza is that it does both really well. Where the grittiness of a typical mob story would tonally fall apart juxtaposed against the guy just trying to do his best, Yakuza 0 marries the two seemingly at odds themes seamlessly. I love the two main characters, Goro Majima and Kazuma Kiryu, and I love how rich each’s worlds are. TheSotenbori and Kamurocho districts are just as much characters as Majima and Kiryu, the two districts living and breathing and generally not giving a damn what the main characters are doing.
2020 has been such a shit-smear of a year that I genuinely forgot this game—one that 2019 me would have called her game of the year—came out this year. Final Fantasy VII is one of my most special and hallowed games. It’s the game I associate with my childhood, and its music serves as one of the foundations of my musical tastes. This game was formative to me, but because of all of the trauma in my life and in the world around me, FFVII:R was blotted entirely from my memory. Recalling it now, I remember tearing up hearing the first soft notes of “The Prelude: Reunion,” while Cloud’s buster sword stood silent vigil waiting for me to pick it up and begin his journey again. Playing through the bombing mission with a shiny new coat of current-gen (now last-gen) graphics was a feast for my nostalgia-ridden heart. I don’t know that I like everything about FFVII:R—the revamped battle system in particular gives me headaches—but of the limited memories I can recall, I was most excited to see what new directions the story would take.
Every year I spend my winter playing World of Warcraft. But since I found the previous WoW expansion, Battle For Azeroth, incredibly boring, I spent last year’s (and part of this year’s) coldest months with The Witcher 3 instead. This year my Wintering With WoW tradition is revived in World of Warcraft: Shadowlands. The class retooling has bumped my affliction warlock specialization to the top of the DPS charts, and the new customization options finally give me the full, bushy, gorgeous afro I’ve been wanting for the last decade. I’m having a lot of fun with the story, particularly my covenant quests and I’m really looking forward to how the story’s endgame content will play out.
For me, nothing about Origami King was expected. I did not expect to play a Paper Mario game (as has been a common theme with this list, it’s my first one ever), I did not expect to enjoy a Paper Mario game as much as I did this one, and I certainly did not expect this game to emotionally break me down before rebuilding me out of colorful confetti, expert origami folding, and masking tape. The task of rotating rings to get koopa paratroopas and goombas in just the right orientation kept my puzzle-loving brain gainfully (and sometimes frustratingly) engaged, while the story is one of my absolute favorites of 2020. I cried for Bobby the Bob-omb and his tale of the ephemera of life, and for the sweet origami princess Olivia who greeted the world with awe and appreciation that in turn made me appreciative of all the beautiful things in my world—something easily missed when there’s a pandemic going on. Hold on, literally tearing up again as I write this because oh my goodness how dare a Paper Mario game be this heartwarming and heart wrenching at the same time. Origami King should have been nominated for game of the year at this year’s Game Awards and if it weren’t for Hades, it would have been mine.
Let me get the firsts out of the way: Hades was my first roguelike and my first Supergiant game, and it makes me want to go back and play more roguelikes and Supergiant games (you’re next Transistor.) Were it not for the art, I would have missed Hades entirely, but I saw pictures of the characters and they were diverse (I’ll carry the image of Eurydice’s tree branch afro to my grave) and oh so pretty (Zagreus, I’m free on Thursday if you wanna hang out. Bring Meg and Thanatos too). I decided right then and there that I just had to play this game. Y’all. The one thing I’ve never liked about roguelikes was the built-in repetition mechanism, but the way Hades artfully constructs its narrative around constantly dying and starting over meant this was never bothersome to me. And my gods what a beautiful story—not just Zagreus and his attempts to escape his domineering father, but everyone’s story—Achilles and Nyx and Orpheus and Eurydice too. It was such a small moment but hearing Orpheus sing again absolutely shattered me, which speaks to the level of care Supergiant took with how they chose to weave elements of its story into its gameplay. Hades has all the hallmarks of a perfect game—good storytelling, good music, engaging gameplay that you can make as hard or as easy as you need, diverse character design, and perhaps most importantly, it was ethically produced. Hades is my 2020 game of the year and, barring any revelations from Bayonetta 3 or Final Fantasy XVI, it will probably be my game of the decade.