Branching Path: James Galizio's Top 10 Games of 2022
I'm not going to lie; it's been a rough year. At the very end of 2021, I found out that my Dad has Terminal cancer, and it's all I can say that I'm lucky enough that he's still with us as we turn the corner into 2023. Video games, especially RPGs, have been a rock for me this year - even more so than usual.
I took on regular shifts for the site this year, and in addition to doing plenty of guides for both of the mainline Pokemon releases this year, chances are you've probably read at least one of the features or reviews I wrote up along the line; I don't know yet what 2023 has in store for me, but I'm just glad that it's been even a little bit less eventful heading into the new year this go around.
Much like Josh, while I played a ton of games this year, there were plenty that I just didn't quite get the chance to get to - or finish, in some cases. You know as well as I do just how packed 2022 was for RPGs, so hopefully, you can forgive me if I don't list one of your favorites. Looking at you, Harvestella, Astlibra Revision and Pentiment.
I'd like to start this list off with some shout-outs to a few honorable mentions. Last year, I used this section to talk about my time with Final Fantasy XI - while I've continued with my playthrough this year, I feel like what's more notable is how I've been playing it. In February, the Steam Deck launched to widespread acclaim. I've been keeping an updated list of the best RPGs playable on the platform, but more than that it's defined how I've played RPGs - and other games - ever since I got mine in May. I know it's not a game but rather a platform, but I figured it was more than worth a shout-out.
As for actual games that I've been playing - well, Final Fantasy XIV continued to be my drug of choice. I sunk over a thousand hours into the MMO this year, most of that time spent raiding. For several months I raided 3 or 4 times a week for at least 3 hours each when patch 6.11's Dragonsong's Reprise (Ultimate) launched. I didn't end up clearing it - my group ultimately fell apart after over a month of being stuck on phase 6 - but it's undeniably the game that I've put the most time into this year, and the shift from being a casual player to actively engaging with high-end raiding dominated much of my game time this year overall.
I'd also like to shout out The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails - but I guess I already did as much earlier this year. Originally I'd planned to play through Kuro no Kiseki 2: Crimson Sin this year, but for one reason or another, that playthrough will likely happen sometime within 2023. Maybe that game will find its way onto my list next year? Well, we'll have to see...
Oh, yeah, I played a lot of Monster Hunter Rise this year, including the Sunbreak expansion. I decided ultimately to leave it off my list for purely new games; if it was included, it definitely would've been close to the top.
With that out of the way, onto my top 10 games of 2022!
10) Bayonetta 3
So, I played over 10 games from 2022 this year; and as such, Bayonetta 3 only really barely made it on the list. I got it early and did a full playthrough on stream in one sitting; while in many ways it's the best game the witch has starred in, due to a variety of issues I had with the level design, some of the more esoteric boss battles and especially the story, I ultimately left the game feeling quite mixed. It's still a great action game that you should rightfully play if you own a Switch, but no more than that at the end of the day.
Ok yeah, I'm really mad about the ending. How could you tell? It's dumb and Platinum should probably stop trying to make serious stories if they're going to keep ending up like this lately - Astral Chain felt the same way, but at least that game didn't already have a series legacy.
So, the latest game from the studio that brought us Telling Lies and Her Story is more of the same; a series of FMVs that players are tasked with poring through to decipher the story at the heart of it all. I never actually gave those other games a shot - and only really knew about Sam Barlow and his studio's work in passing. Really, the only reason I gave Immortality a shot at all was twofold; I was really bored, and it was on Game Pass. I can certainly see what others have seen in his games, but I must admit that while I admire what the team has done it's not without some qualms.
Progressing the story feels so hands-off at times, to the point where even knowing what you should be clicking on to search for new information felt like I rarely had any control of the game; scrubbing footage to try and decipher hidden clips was always a pain because the game felt like it was inconsistent in the method it actively wanted you to use to switch to said clips. There's a fascinating story here - and the fact that the team essentially made 3 separate period-piece movies in the process of developing their game - is a staggering amount of work. It didn't stick with me as much as others, but it's probably worth a play if you're at all interested in Barlow and Half Mermaid's other titles.
8) Little Noah: Scion of Paradise
So, before Little Noah my only experience playing anything released by Cygames has been a brief period of time where I tried Dragalia Lost - might it rest in peace. However, some tweets from a friend of mine tipped me off that the casual roguelike might be something to pay attention to. The game's low price made it easy to justify picking up, and the rest is history. There's not much left for me to say that I didn't really go over in my review, but Little Noah was yet another pleasant surprise in an already packed year - one that roguelike fans might be interested in checking out for themselves.
7) Klonoa 2: Lunatea's Veil
So this is kind of cheating. Klonoa 2 is, of course, a PlayStation 2 game - but a remaster for it came out this year. I have plenty of friends that have sworn by the game for years, and yet as a GameCube kid, I never had the chance to play the series until recently. While I thought the first game was a charming but ultimately unremarkable 2.5D platformer, I can comfortably say that the sequel is - outside of nostalgia - absolutely the better game. More interesting level design, an even better soundtrack, significantly better boss battles, and even - in my opinion - a better story.
Klonoa fans seemingly hoped that the sales of the remasters might lead to a revival of the franchise, and I'm right there with them hoping this means we might one day see a Klonoa 3; it slingshotted itself to my list of favorite 2D platformers. It's on all platforms, and I can personally attest that it runs great on Steam Deck; so if you're at all a fan of platformers and haven't played it yet, give it a shot!
6) Sonic Frontiers
You know, it's funny; I grew up with a GameCube, but it just so happened that I ended up way more of a "Sonic" kid than a "Mario" one. Most of that was undoubtedly due to the Chao Garden, but even after the feature was axed from later Sonic games, I've gone out of my way to play more of the Blue Blur's titles than Nintendo's mustached mascot. I'll refrain from talking about Sonic's history with 3D platformers, but suffice it to say Sonic Frontiers was a welcome surprise, and perhaps my favorite of his outings since I first played Sonic Adventure over two decades ago.
The "open zone" format worked well for Sonic's gameplay, and being able to seamlessly flow from one platforming challenge to the next while carving your own path feels like a solid step forward to the franchise - even if it's not without its faults. Maybe less 2D sections, next time? Not to mention the CyberSpace levels didn't just feel stapled on; that very clearly was the case when the vast majority of them were merely reskinned levels from prior 3D Sonic games.
There's a lot more I could talk about with the game; the story feels like the first time Sonic Team has treated Sonic seriously since Sonic Colors, the boss battles are somehow the best of the year (of the games I've played, at least), and the soundtrack, as always, was completely full of bangers. Sonic's back, baby!
5) AI: The Somnium Files - NirvanA Initiative
I played the original AI: The Somnium Files as part of a bet with fellow site contributor Cullen Black; I would play through Kotaro Uchikoshi's latest project if he would finally get around to reading Muv-Luv. We're sitting here nearly 3 years later, and I've played both AI: The Somnium Files titles while Cullen is still stuck in the early hours of Muv-Luv Extra. I'd say he won out on that exchange, but truth be told I'm just glad the bet - even if I've long stopped caring about him actually following through on it - got me to give Uchikoshi a second chance after my middling feelings with Zero Time Dilemma.
I didn't really know what to expect from AI: The Somnium Files - NirvanA Initiative. Beyond the fact that the first game's story felt like it wrapped itself up without leaving much room for a follow-up, the added context that NirvanA Initiative was explicitly designed so that players could enjoy the sequel without having touched the first game puzzled me even further. I'm not sure if that latter ideal works out in practice, but at the end of the day, I enjoyed NirvanA Initiative quite a bit; just as much as the first game, and in many ways even more than it. The story maybe felt messier overall than the first game, and you can twist yourself into knots over how the primary plot twist feels like it was contrived - but it doesn't matter. They delivered another solid entry in what's now Spike Chunsoft's primary franchise. I can't wait to see how it continues to evolve with the next one, assuming we'll be lucky enough to get it.
2022 had a lot of surprises in gaming, but I still think Drainus ended up being one of the biggest ones, at least as far I'm concerned. Team Ladybug spent years perfecting their craft at designing excellent, fluid 2D sprite-based Metroidvanias - and both Touhou Luna Nights as well as Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth went through lengthy Early Access periods. Yet here we have Drainus, a side-scrolling shoot-em-up in the style of titles such as Darius, released out of nowhere without any sort of Early Access period at all! Oh, yeah, and it's probably my favorite title of theirs that they've released, to boot.
The gameplay loop of absorbing enemy attacks to reflect back to enemies adds an additional element of flavor to a tried and true genre. The story - while certainly not the main focus of the game, was surprisingly good, and gave just enough context to make the journey feel impactful heading through the stages. Not much else to say, other than I've now got yet another genre for me to look forward to from the talented team at Team Ladybug.
3) Xenoblade Chronicles 3
What can I say about Xenoblade Chronicles 3, that someone else at RPG Site hasn't already said? It's the conclusion to a 3-games long saga that most of us didn't even know was a proper trilogy, bringing some of the best aspects of both Xenoblade 1 and 2, along with its own new ideas to the table. From the excellent party dynamics between Noah and company, to the engaging Hero Quest side-stories, and more; Xenoblade Chronicles 3 feels like a truly realized vision, and for most RPG players it makes perfect sense to be their game of the year. In any other year, I'd probably feel the same.
Ultimately, it was a few small problems I had with the story - pacing and otherwise - in the final hours of the game that just barely held it back from reaching the top of my list. But that feels like nitpicking, in a way. Others have clearly felt differently; and it goes without saying that if you're at all a fan of JRPGs, you owe it to yourself to play the game.
2) Elden Ring
Saying that Elden Ring is probably game of the year honestly feels reductive for what it has accomplished as a whole. Simply taking an established formula and executing on turning it into an open-ended, open-world experience is far from as simple as it sounds; the fact that Elden Ring managed to nail so much on its first go is nothing to scoff at. From Software has always excelled in making their vistas feel large in scope, and making worlds that once you step back to examine them are actually rather small feel large and lived in. Elden Ring strived to make that illusion of a grander world a reality, and The Lands Between has rightfully taken its place near the top of the list of most iconic game worlds.
Whether it was our first moments exploring Caelid - either voluntarily or involuntarily - discovering the underground, deciphering the passage to the Northwestern corner of the map, and more - there's a magic to Elden Ring's world design, and how players ultimately engaged with it. Even more than the game itself, there truly will be nothing quite like the first few weeks of Elden Ring's launch, and the discussions surrounding it, ever again.
1) Pokemon Legends: Arceus
Pokemon: Legends Arceus saved me. Back in early 2022, I was still reeling from the news of my father's cancer, and in the weeks following that diagnosis it felt like I wasn't really "living" - I was just in a haze, barely moving, just doing the bare minimum to keep my head up. Upon Pokemon's release, however, I found myself engaged with the franchise on a level I hadn't felt since the Nintendo DS - even if I also loved Pokemon Scarlet & Violet later this year, there was only room enough on my list for one of the games, and Arceus was there when I needed it.
Of course, the game itself was a breath of fresh air. I'd already hoped as much after Pokemon Sword & Shield's promising DLC, but Arceus showed that what I'd seen in the Expansion Pass was indeed the vision for the series moving forward. A more freeform gameplay loop, allowing players to explore and catch Pokemon at their own pace. Not to mention putting a much larger focus on the story - something that, thankfully, carried over to Pokemon Scarlet & Violet later in the year.
When it comes down to it, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 and Elden Ring are almost definitely better games. Yet, this is my list, and of the games that I enjoyed this year, no other came close to being what I needed most like Pokemon Legends: Arceus did. Even devoting my time to writing guides offered a much-needed respite from focusing too deeply on the events I was going through; maybe not the best decision at the time, but ultimately it ended up helping me keep things together long enough to let things digest.
Hopefully, I won't have a need for a game like Pokemon Legends: Arceus this year; but unfortunately, I can't say for sure how things will go. I can only hope that 2023 is kinder to me than 2022 was, and failing that - for friends and video games to be there to help keep me together.