Looking back at 2022 is a bit strange. There's a black hole of a game in the early months and after that I found myself drawn towards the smaller and often more indie titles. Although there wasn't a lack of games, it was noticeable that the bigger developers and publishers had reached the end of their titles in storage and the effects of the pandemic were finally seeping through. As such, my highlights for the year are as follows:
5. Dungeon Encounters (PS4)
This one snuck up to me. After so many years of JRPGs trying to do new things, it was refreshing to delve into one that was just the most basic in years. Except it wasn't. Although Dungeon Encounters starts off making you think you can just brute force your way through it, it slowly layers new abilities and new twists on top of each other. The stark grid you navigate and the spartan battle scenes you engage can be both very sweet and bitter in alternating waves. It's brutal at times, but then again you can be as well. Moreover, it's pretty amazing in how it paints a world without actually presenting you with much to go on. This could've been an 8-bit JRPG, and sometimes that's exactly what the doctor ordered.
4. Ghost Song (PS5)
Hauntingly beautiful and audibly somewhere in-between comfort and discomfort, Ghost Song is Mixed Bag: The Game. It throws everything and the kitchen sink at you, from classic Metroid-progression, to Souls-like combat, and never really excels. What it presents is very solid though, and my only gripe with it is that it is over quickly once you start to get into the groove of things. What looks like a huge map becomes a cosy affair towards the end of it. Really enjoyed it and would definitely be on board for a sequel, but it's not one to easily drop into another's lap as a must-play metroidvania.
3. Citizen Sleeper (SD)
I basically played Citizen Sleeper over two periods — one at the start of summer and one at the end of summer — which turned out to split pretty evenly in two as well. It plays like reading a book, but one where if something interests you, you can dig a little deeper. Using dice rolls and placement is an excellent mechanic and I hope it gets adopted as a core mechanic for many visual novels to come. What sets the game apart from others is its setting and its characters. It sells cyberpunk concepts better than the other eponymous AAA-example and still maintains a very human angle to everything, even though you play a not-human character. It might show its gears a bit too obviously as you get towards the end, as the pull and push of the mechanics gives way to optimization of the game's meta. Though after the credits, this one stays with you for a while, and that's worth way more to me.
2. Vampire Survivors (SD)
Steam Deck's Tetris. Really, this game should've snatched up by Valve as a pack-in instead of Aperture Desk Job. Vampire Survivors contains all the Skinner Box weirdness of an idler, yet manages to combine that with the overpowered feel of some of the best RPGs and metroidvanias, and then suddenly starts adding goals and mechanics on top of it, making what seemed to be throwaway busywork into a genuine game experience. I've whittled away a good 50 hours in this and will probably keep doing so for many hours more. Huzzah!
1. Elden Ring (PS5)
Quelle surprise. Of course it was going to be Elden Ring. It took up more than 200 hours of my time, was the biggest gaming event this year, and was greatest hits style celebration of everything Souls-like. All while showing the entire open world design field how to instil some proper exploration and wonder into a game world. Thinking back to the game feels like remembering a vacation with friends (doubly so, as I experienced a good chunk of the game with a group chat on the side). I haven't returned to it, even after the update a few weeks ago, mainly because I'm not into the multiplayer aspect of it, but also because I want the memory of the game to fade a bit further, only to boot it up once more on a spare day for a second play-through with an entirely different character build. I want to experience that vacation again when I need it.