Branching Path: Josh Torres’s Top 10 Games of 2022
Another end of a year is upon us in the blink of an eye. Most of 2022 for me was spent recovering mentally from the aftermath of 2021’s personal events. I tried to pick myself up the best I could throughout it, so I guess I did ok since I’m still here writing this. Don’t do what I did though by hiding your pain to basically everyone; reach out to someone and be honest with what you’re going through. I’m stubborn and I’m an idiot for bottling things up.
There was a major turning point for me that just transpired a little over a month ago though. I got a new job and I’ll be relocating very soon to another state. If you’re reading this shortly after it’s been published, my flight to a new life will be in roughly less than a week.
Over the last several weeks, 2022 turned into a year where I had to lay my current life to rest in the most graceful way possible. Truthfully, I’m scared, nervous, excited, anxious, uncertain - but above all, determined.
I’ll still be here at RPG Site until my new day-to-day life is set in stone and see what that looks like. I can’t make any promises; hey, maybe this is the last Game of the Year list you’ll see from me here for all we know.
Enough about me though. Good taste in video games is what you’re here for. I don’t know if you’ll find it.
I’m only human though and did not get to every single video game I wanted to. The three games I really wanted to get to this year, but didn’t have time to, were Pentiment, Signalis, and Harvestella. I’ve heard amazing things about each of them, but life has gotten very strange for me recently so I had to focus my efforts elsewhere.
Another oddity that I deliberately did not put on my list is The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero. It finally received an official western release this year, but I’ve already played its original release on the PSP many, many years ago. I do plan to get around to playing this release though - just not right now.
Before I kick off the top 10 list this year, I also wanted to include two Honorable Mentions because I’m selfish and this is my list. No one even knew when I was publishing this, so keep this a secret between us.
My two Honorable Mentions for 2022 both come from Square Enix - The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story and The DioField Chronicle. Square Enix released a billion games this year, so I guess it’s a little inevitable if you see their games in other staff lists on this site. Hell, one of the games I didn’t get to also came from them.
The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story comes from h.a.n.d. and is a FMV mystery adventure game. A fairly high-budget FMV game from Japanese developers is quite rare and Centennial Case was such a novel experience that I had a lot of fun playing. It revolves around a novelist’s investigation into a certain family that has been “cursed” for a hundred years. Along the way, players live out some periods of that family’s past, so the FMV presentation entirely shifts into period pieces; it’s fascinating and I highly recommend this if you’re fan of FMV or mystery games.
I wanted to give a quick shout out to The DioField Chronicle. Developed by Lancarse, DioField Chronicle is a pretty neat tactical real-time isometric RPG. It isn’t an absolutely amazing game, but I found it pretty charming. Story beats are succinct and to-the-point, while battles don’t last long enough to overstay their welcome. Building and developing units feels gratifying because you’re often searching for a way to annihilate the opposition as fast and as efficiently as possible. There are some spoilery aspects about it that I wish more games in general had. DioField Chronicle gets bonus points for releasing a demo on PC (while most demos for multi-platform games only release on consoles these days), as well as having very solid keyboard and mouse controls that greatly complement how its battle system is structured.
Now, onto my Top 10 Games of 2022!
10) Marvel’s Midnight Suns
I really didn’t know what to expect out of Marvel’s Midnight Suns when I fired it up to review it for the site. There were two things I knew going in - I like XCOM and I like some Marvel heroes. After putting 50 hours into it, I came out with one of my favorite games of the year - much to my surprise. It isn’t quite “XCOM Marvel” and I think that was the right move. Firaxis’s decision to go with a brand-new combat system that revolved around cards and deck building may be divisive for many, but I enjoyed that element of it.
All the characters had unique movesets and roles, so mixing-and-matching them led to a lot of fun experimentation. Many mechanics in Midnight Suns encourage that too, so I never felt the need to try and find a one-party-fits-all solution. Battles were a blast and even the social aspect with the heroes during downtime were alright as well. It might be a game I’ll revisit here and there next year with the new DLC characters and storylines that it’ll be getting. Plus, I have to know how they’ll handle Marvel’s greatest hero, Morbius.
9) Live A Live
It’s strange writing about Live A Live again in 2022. I know for many, many, many people, they experienced Live A Live for the first time with its shiny new HD-2D remake. To me, it’s seeing a very old game I loved getting the spotlight again. It’s a similar feeling to when Seiken Densetsu 3 finally got an official western release in 2019’s Collection of Mana as Trials of Mana - which then got a full remake a year later too.
All I can say is that Live A Live proves that its core structure is timeless. Sure, the HD-2D treatment is a treat to see and a lot of improvements were made in streamlining its presentation in a smart, modernized fashion that didn’t feel too out-of-place. The most impressive aspect about the Live A Live remake to me is how well it preserves and re-delivers the promise of what the RPG genre could be - a Megaman-esque boss rush, a tense survival horror, or a typical medieval fantasy and much more.
Of course, its variety is what makes it compelling but beyond that, Live A Live is a framework that showcases the potential of how flexible a RPG could be. It has continually inspired a myriad of games since its original release in 1994 and will continue to do so; I’m glad that a lot more people got exposed to this classic one more time with modern technologies fueling its release.
8) Triangle Strategy
Strategy RPG fans feasted pretty well in 2022 from Tactics Ogre: Reborn, Relayer, Marvel’s Midnight Suns, Front Mission 1st: Remake, and several more I’m probably forgetting at the moment. I think Triangle Strategy is just a remarkably solid experience, especially on a first blind playthrough to see where your own choices lead you. The gears that turn the branching narrative structure are surfaced on subsequent playthroughs to make it easier to obtain any characters you missed out on and go on the game’s other routes which is all fine and dandy, though it inevitably and understandably loses some of that initial magic.
What’s interesting about Triangle Strategy to me is I’ve appreciated it more and more the longer it’s been since I’ve fully completed it. There are characters, scenes, and especially music tracks that have stayed with me from that game. A certain powerful exchange between Serenoa and Benedict often sticks out in my mind when I recall that game’s events. Numerous tracks remind me of several dramatical sequences and the trouble I had with some of its stages. If Triangle Strategy ever receives some sort of follow-up, I would be very interested in it.
7) Tactics Ogre: Reborn
From one strategy RPG right into another, I was thrilled and somewhat nervous when the first leaks were coming out for Tactics Ogre: Reborn. The previous releases of Tactics Ogre are some of my favorite strategy RPGs ever, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from Tactics Ogre: Reborn.
Although I don’t 100% agree with all the new changes, I still think it’s an incredible game. Tactics Ogre has one of my favorite stories in video games and the voice acting in both English & Japanese introduced in Tactics Ogre: Reborn supplement it nicely. The quality-of-life features that speed up the gameplay without compromising it were more than welcome. It also rectified a lot of the systems that made Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together on the PSP a bit of a pain to play.
Sure, it’s another old game that I liked way back in the day. That’s what happens when you play a lot of good games - they get re-released and… they’re still good games. That’s crazy.
I am crossing my fingers and hoping that the success of Tactics Ogre: Reborn encourages more modern Ogre Battle re-releases and a new entry in that series altogether.
6) Elden Ring
I’m not sure what I can say about this game that hasn’t already been said a million times before. If you bought this and/or any recent FromSoftware game in the last 5 years, thank you for funding the development of Armored Core VI. I will be happy to know that your money went into making that game as rad as possible as I’m playing it next year.
Seriously though, Elden Ring was a pretty cool evolution of the Souls formula. I’m not gonna tell you that every centimeter of its open world was the most amazing thing ever to explore; it was enough to get me interested in going from place-to-place because of the bizarre sights I kept on seeing it for the first time.
My experience with Elden Ring was basically booting it up on launch day and disappearing from the face of the Earth until I finished my 90+ hour playthrough. It feels like a fever dream at this point. I definitely don’t think it’s my favorite Souls game out of FromSoftware, but I respect what they did with it. If anything, I’m glad it sold like hotcakes because it’s funding the real FromSoftware game I care about.
5) Witch on the Holy Night
This is a game I thought I would never ever see an official English release for. It’s one of my personal gaming miracles this year… hell, ever. I was so taken aback from its first press release that I wrote an entire feature about it and that kinda never happens. I’m not usually the type of writer that can fire out a reactionary feature immediately unless I feel really, really passionate about something.
Witch on the Holy Night is a visual novel I read many years ago in its original Japanese release. This new re-release was launching on consoles for the first time with full voice acting, remastered visuals, and most importantly, English support. Its digital release even launched worldwide simultaneously; frankly, all the news for this when it broke still feels unreal.
This is technically the first “main” Type-Moon visual novel that’s received an official English release, if you’re not counting Fate/Grand Order, Fate/Extra, or the Fate/Extella games. I would’ve liked to see another editing pass on the English script since there were quite a few typos and odd translations here & there, but it’s largely fine for the majority of it.
I usually am wary when a previously unvoiced work receives voice acting many years later, but it worked out very well for Witch on the Holy Night. The Japanese voice cast was amazing and it added so much throughout the entire game. I also read it on the cusp of moving out into a new life with an entirely new environment, so a lot of scenes that focused on the feeling of displacement impacted me pretty hard.
One of my favorite lines in the entire story is “If you don’t know why you left, you won’t be able to love where you arrived.” It has gotten me thinking a lot about my future that’s just right around the corner.
4) Citizen Sleeper
I got around to Citizen Sleeper fairly late in the year. It was the game I chose to complete right before the big Game of the Year podcast for the site. I started and finished it in just under a week and fell in love with it.
There’s something about me gravitating towards games with plotlines that involve someone being thrust into an entirely new setting this year. That’s how Citizen Sleeper starts; you pick a class and you wake up in garbage basically… remembering almost nothing. You’re confused, your character is confused, and everyone kinda treats you like shit.
Citizen Sleeper is a game about finding a new life for yourself as you try to escape the remnants of your past. You meet people, you learn about them, and you come to accept the life you discover. I adore the way this game handles its visual and audio presentation; it maintains a somewhat somberly smooth atmosphere, with little drops of hope early on. The HUD and audio cues respond to those moments effectively and naturally.
The writing is sublime in its conciseness; it’s a relatively short RPG with a total runtime of a little over 10 hours if you’re aiming to see everything. Your interactions with people never drag and things move at a steady pace. My only issue is that the game does slow down a bit too much in the last stretch if you’ve done everything a bit too efficiently, but it remains a remarkably amazing experience nonetheless.
3) Vampire Survivors
When I’m making my own personal Game of the Year lists, the only metric I really consider is how much fun I had playing a game. It’s as simple as asking myself “did I have more fun playing this game than this game” arbitrarily.
I bought Vampire Survivors earlier in the year when it was still in Early Access. All I remember is people kept talking about it, but I had no idea what it actually was. I fired it up, picked a character, and my first response was “this… is so stupid.”
Then I kept playing it again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again.
Vampire Survivors was the quintessential game to play when I wanted to turn my brain off this year. It taps into my primal instinct in a video game to just want to blow shit up in different ways. I can’t quite articulate what makes this game so good for me beyond “it’s very stupid and very fun.” I still play it regularly and the new DLC that it recently got added a lot of fun options to blow things up in different ways all over again.
It also helps that it’s just the perfect game to fire up on the Steam Deck from time to time.
2) Astlibra Revision
This is the underdog of 2022, but hot damn Astlibra Revision has got that dog in it. I first played a demo for this during a Steam Next Fest event and frankly, I didn’t like it at first because I felt it took too long to get to actually playing it - which is more of my approach to trying out Steam Next Fest demos rather than the quality of the games themselves.
Astlibra Revision was off my radar and I didn’t think about it again until a trusted friend started raving about it. He kept praising it throughout his 70+ hour playthrough; his remarks were infectious. I eventually gave in and bought it because I had to see what in the world he was talking about.
Lo and behold, here it is sitting at #2 in my personal Game of the Year list and by complete chance, I was even able to interview the developer of the game several weeks ago.
Astlibra Revision is a lovely 2D side scroller action RPG that feels like a natural evolution to Falcom’s Ys III: Wanderers from Ys and Faxanadu. It dares to imagine a world that still had those kinds of games and what they would look & play like today. There are a myriad of interesting mechanics to tinker with in Astlibra Revision to truly customize the way you want to play.
On top of it, there’s just a ridiculous story that compelled me to see where it goes. There’s so much heart in Astlibra Revision and I felt that when I played it. When people talk (or meme) about something having “SOUL”, I think this is one of the very rare examples where I can actually see and feel that. I could tell the developer’s love of 2D side scroller action RPGs, even if it may not be the smoothest ride.
Throughout my playthrough of Astlibra Revision, I was reminded of simpler times when I played these types of games from a bygone era. It’s so good.
1) Xenoblade Chronicles 3
It’s crazy to think that Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a game we all didn’t know existed until early February this year. Not only that, it moved its initial September release date up to the end of July. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 had an odd mix of expectations from it, due to the years of divisive discourse since the release of Xenoblade Chronicles 2. There was a lot of anticipation and uncertainty over whether Monolith Soft “learned their lesson” after it.
Admittedly, I am a person who accepts and appreciates what games try to achieve on their own merit; I don’t quite have a strong tendency to expect games to be like past iterations. It’s why I tend to prefer new original games over new sequels.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 does something I really admire. It literally and symbolically shows the battle systems of past Xenoblade games, mashes them together to form something new, and ultimately doesn’t adhere to many traditions that were established from past entries. I like it when games, especially sequels, can confidently break what’s expected of them and are successful at showing it.
Above all, Monolith Soft has finally reached a point in their graphical presentation that can deliver heartfelt moments without making them feel uncanny. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 smartly has the six main characters meet up very early in the game and develops them together in this gigantic emotional journey into uncertainty. You see them in their moments of triumph and weakness & how the others respond to that. It rectifies several narrative downfalls from previous Xenoblade installments; it’s by no means perfect in that regard still, but it makes an earnest cohesive effort that delivered some of the best moments in the entire series for me.
Everything I love about it can be all found in my lengthy review for it. I gave it a 10/10; I don’t think it’s a perfect game and it does have noticeable flaws. I know a game getting a 10 without being perfect will still break some people’s brains, so let me copy and paste this from RPG Site’s FAQ in regards to what each review score means.
10. The best of the best. No game we've seen yet is 'perfect,' but a game that scores a ten is viewed by us as being as close as is possible to that goal. Recommended without hesitation.
And I think that sums up Xenoblade Chronicles 3 well and why it’s my Game of the Year in 2022.