Rune Factory 5 takes a few missteps, for sure - the clunky framerate and a lifeless town being the biggest of them – but it's the kind of fantasy farming experience I've been clamouring for ever since the last game came out. The routine of tending your farm, clobbering some goblins, and giving your spouse a bunch of gifts is as addictive as ever. Even if this isn't the most polished entry in the series, it's absolutely a welcome return for the series that fans will eat up.
GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon is a gorgeous game with solid side-scrolling combat, but its genre shift to the roguelike form hasn't paid off. The progression system is slow and the upgrades you obtain are pretty deal, leading to a roguelike experience that doesn't do enough to incentivise sticking with it for very long.
Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream is an absolute gift. Sophie is just as charming and inspiring as ever, and even though the story tacks on more dimensional time-travel drama than I would've cared for, it's just as touching and cozy of an experience as the first Atelier Sophie. Gathering, crafting, and battling are all plenty of fun too, and flooded with enough layers of mechanics that it's easy to pick an area you want to focus on and purely master that one element of the game. By looking to the past, this surprise sequel has delivered a promising vision of the future of the Atelier series.
Ultimately, Windjammers 2 is an ultra-refined version of the original disc-throwing experience, but without any kind of unlockables, progression, or non-competitive reason to return to the game, it may not provide enough for anyone who isn't already a hardcore series fan.
Clockwork Aquario was made for a very specific crowd of people, by an incredibly passionate team. Obviously a short and simple arcade platformer like this isn't going to be a smash hit today, but there are still plenty of people out there who clamor for old-school '90s arcade bliss. If you're one of those people, then Clockwork Aquario is the game for you. It's short and easy, but fun and beautiful. An arcade classic that was almost lost to time, and I'm so happy that it wasn't.
Wolfstride is the rule-of-cool - it's a game all about vibes and style and sick robots, and it never gets old or feels out-of-touch. That hefty amount of style certainly carries the game through it's slower moments, but those are also smartly broken up by some of the most interesting turn-based battles I've seen in an RPG. There are rough spots to Wolfstride, for sure, but it's the coolest game I've played in years, and it absolutely knows it.
Blue Reflection: Second Light is an improvement over the original in every way. It's a brilliant blend of action and storytelling, where both side complement each other perfectly. Some of the side systems like stealth and facility building are a bit flawed, but the meat of the game is divine – incredible combat, memorable characters, and a stunning soundtrack make this a must-play for any JRPG enthusiast.
The Good Life is another flawed yet fascinating gem from Swery65. It's a weird world full of unforgettable characters, and even when the gameplay grows a bit tiring or repetitive, it's worth all the photo quests and fetch missions in the world to see that next bonkers twist in the story.
Neptunia x Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars is the hyper-specific and ultra-niche crossover game I never thought I'd get. It's a delight to see the Senran Kagura crew after so long, and it's a blast to see the Neptunia girls in what is easily the most fun and satisfying to play spinoff in the series. The lack of extra features and watered down story leave something to be desired, but if this is the first of many games, then it's a promising new direction for both series.
Aragami 2 is a huge departure from the original game. In exchanging the linear narrative-driven stealth experience for an open-ended co-op mission adventure, Lince Works has created a game that feels just as flawed as the original, but has a lot more charm in it's small moments and simplicity. Repetitive missions and enemies make it hard to get engrossed with the game for long periods of time, but as a stealth action game to hop into for quick little bursts, Aragami 2 can be pretty fun.
I can't imagine anybody was clamouring for it, but I'm still happy El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron was ported to PC. It's a shame when games are lost to time, and even though this one has some clunky combat and repetitive gameplay, it's still one of the most artistically inventive and stunningly original games of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 era.
Tales of Arise reinvigorates the magic of the long-running series. A franchise that long rested on its established laurels has been refreshingly upgraded and reinvented, resulting in one of the most polished and jaw-dropping JRPGs I've played in a long time. It's an exciting new chapter for the Tales series that won't be soon forgotten.
Disgaea 6 is full of fun characters and addictive grinding, but as a package it feels like a stepping stone entry in the series - a not-quite-complete game that will hopefully pave the way for bigger and better things in the next sequel.
NEO: The World Ends with You is way too cool, way too fun, and way too good. For fans of the series, this is a sequel that goes above and beyond 14 years of hopes and expectations. For newcomers who have never even heard of the Reaper's Game, this is one of the most genuine, polished, and stylish games I've ever played. Personality and style ooze out of it constantly, and in a post-Persona 5 world where society is starting to clamour for more immersive and all-encompassing JRPG masterpieces, this might just be the next big thing.
Cotton Reboot! isn't just a new way to play a stellar old-school shoot 'em up; it's also essentially a modern sequel to this dormant shooter series thanks to the gorgeous new Arrange mode. Classic Cotton is cute and easy to pick up, but Arrange is a fast and wild experience that is definitely hard to master. There's some on-screen messiness in Arrange mode and the lack of gallery-style bonuses is a bummer, but this is still a must-play shoot 'em up for any fans of the genre.
Boomerang X is the 2AM food truck run of arena shooters. You're in and out before you know it, but holy shit is it amazing. The boomerang abilities that form the core of the gameplay are unique and insanely addicting, but there's always new foes and features constantly revealing themselves as the game progresses. It's a brief experience, maybe too brief, but it's still an unforgettable one.
Mushihimesama was ahead of the pack when it came out two decades ago, and that hasn't changed at all in 2021. This is still a remarkable shmup and a must-play for hardcore fans, but thanks to the wealth of difficulty options it provides, it's the perfect way for newcomers to dip their feet into the genre too.
Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin breathes new life into the world of Monster Hunter. The shift to a turn-based RPG is handled so well, with an addictive and fast-paced combat system that's just as rewarding as traditional Monster Hunter. Complementing that is a genuinely engaging story full of wonderful characters, all rendered in an incredibly beautiful art style. Whether you're a newcomer or a series veteran, this is a must-play RPG.