Top 11 Games of 2021

My first post of 2022 is the most important list of the year – the time when I get to share my favourite games from the last 12 months! 2021 was a top year for gaming with plenty of new releases to look forward to. I managed to play more than 20 new titles last year, making a pretty strong nomination list for a post exclusively featuring 2021 titles! In true gamergal.exe fashion, I’ll feature 11 games in this list, but all of which will have been released sometime during 2021.


11. BUSTAFELLOWS

Developer: NIPPON CULTURAL BROADCASTING EXTEND INC. / Publisher: PQube Limited

Release Date: 30th July 2021

BUSTAFELLOWS is the first otome visual novel brought to the west by PQube. Follow rookie journalist, Teuta, a girl with an unusual time travelling ability, as she attempts to prevent the murder of crooked lawyer, Limbo. Teuta soon ends up working alongside Limbo and his fellow crime-busting gang members to uncover the reason why he was targeted and unravel the root of unrest within the city of New Seig.

BUSTAFELLOWS was a highly anticipated game for many otome fans, myself included – so much so that this localisation was actually the game I was most looking forward to this year. With some stunning artwork, high quality voice acting and plenty of character banter, there’s a lot to be desired about this visual novel; but saying that, I feel like it was marketed poorly. The official synopsis makes this out to be more of a murder mystery which is what caught my attention in the first place, however, that aspect of the game was pretty much wrapped up within the introduction. Despite each character route having individual storylines, they were unfortunately quite short and, for me, the overall plot was rather lacklustre. Yes, it was good, but I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed.


10. Scarlet Hood and the Wicked Wood

Developer: Devespresso Games / Publisher: Headup, Whisper Games

Release Date: 8th April 2021

What happens when you combine Groundhog Day, The Wizard of Oz and Little Red Riding Hood? A neat little indie game, that’s what! Scarlet Hood and the Wicked Wood is a side-scrolling, puzzle, adventure following the titular character as she finds herself in a strange world after being swept up by a raging tornado. In order to lead her new found Munchkin friends through the Black Witch’s domain of the Wicked Wood, Scarlet must take on the role of the Red Witch on this whimsical and wacky journey.

Scarlet Hood and the Wicked Wood has so much going on that it’s hard not to get immersed in the world of Glome with several different levels to play through. Featuring a mix of point & click and survival elements, the concoction of gameplay aspects are a little strange, but the puzzle quality, stylish visuals and script writing are definitely worth the experience. With the ending determined by choices made within each of these vibrant stages, taking the time for multiple playthroughs is desirable in order to witness each of the outcomes, both between stages and for the finale. This game may be odd, but that’s part of the reason why I loved it!


9. Olympia Soirée

Developer: Idea Factory / Publisher: Aksys Games

Release Date: 10th September 2021

Otome localisation, Olympia Soirée, from Aksys Games is a fantasy visual novel set on Tenguu Island, a remote destination where the population are bound by strict marriage rules in order to preserve the island’s heritage. The story follows Byakuya, (a.k.a. Olympia) the last of the ‘White Clan’, who is on a mission to find herself a husband as it is vital to retain her lineage due to her clan’s ability to fuel the sun. However, this proves to be quite a challenge as this sheltered girl begins to learn about the harsh reality the residents of Tenguu Island are accustomed to.

Olympia Soirée is one of the most mature otome games I’ve played due to the serious, lore heavy themes displayed throughout the plot. A main factor of the story focuses on the discrimination between clans on Tenguu Island which was initially a concern with the otome community. However, the intricate plot relies on these themes for the phenomenal world building that is layered up as Olympia experiences and learns more about the island’s heritage. She soon begins to spark a change into the younger generations to bring a new light to Tenguu Island’s future within each of the 5 routes, each being varied and very well written. Although some of the bad endings were a little hard to stomach, the overall plot was incredibly rich and a genuinely great read which also benefitted from thorough quality control that has been lacking in previous releases.


8. Streets of Rage 4: Mr. X Nightmare

Developer: Dotemu, Guard Crush, Lizardcube / Publisher: Dotemu

Release Date: 15th July 2021 (Expansion)

Streets of Rage 4 is the newest game in the classic SoR franchise, released 26 years after the previous title, Streets of Rage 3. Despite SoR4 being a 2020 release, 2021 brought the addition of a major DLC upgrade pack, Mr. X Nightmare which includes 3 new characters, a new survival game mode, new unlockable moves for every character (with customisable builds) and tonnes of new weapons.

Streets of Rage 4 is already a solid game with beautiful hand drawn visuals, a banging OST and features local co-op play for up to 4 people, but the Mr. X Nightmares DLC pack adds hours more enjoyment due to the amount of bonus content it includes. The extra characters alone make replaying the game worthwhile, but the new Survival Mode makes it even better as completing waves awards brand new moves for each character. This allows customisation for every character’s move set, providing a refreshing way to mix up combos which actually makes a surprising difference in a lot of scenarios. Even though this DLC pack was a bit of a cheat answer for this list, it deserves a mention as it’s incredible value for money and a complete must have for fans of the game.


7. Hellish Quart

Developer / Publisher: Kubold

Release Date: 16th February 2021 (Early Access)

Early Access title, Hellish Quart, is a physics based, sword-fighting game set in the historically accurate 17th century. With high quality, 3D graphics and motion captured animations, Hellish Quart provides an immersing experience with a variety of characters instantly available to play – with more on the way!

Since Hellish Quart‘s appearance in February, there have been a number of frequent updates adding new duellists, tweaks to move sets and general quality of life improvements which show very promising results with each new visit. Despite the game having a high skill ceiling, it’s quite simple to pick up as a beginner due to the controls being intuitive, however, the inclusion of physics brings a whole new layer to the game. Expect both suspenseful and hilarious moments with every fight, which in my experience are best enjoyed with a friend.


6. Taisho x Alice

Developer: Primula / Publisher: pencil

Release Date: 24th June 2021 (Epilogue)

Released as four separate chapters, Taisho x Alice is an otome visual novel brought to Steam by pencil with both Chapter 3 and the Epilogue having 2021 release dates. Each chapter follows our protagonist, Arisu, alongside an all male cast based on traditional fairy-tale heroines with the Epilogue bringing the stories together for a well rounded finale. An all-in-one bundle is also available for purchase as these chapters need to be played in order to get the most out of the game.

This isn’t the first time Taisho x Alice has been brought to the west. A previous port in 2017 completely flopped due to substandard quality, but this version, however, has commendable translations. The story begins as a selection of light-hearted, reimagined fairy-tales with a strong heroine who has a great sense of humour, providing plenty of banter with the other characters. I thoroughly enjoyed the way Taisho x Alice was written with its well crafted plot having a perfect blend of not only humour, but darker themes as well, making it a gripping read as another story is waiting to emerge from the sense of familiarity each chapter holds. I’d highly recommend giving it a shot, even if it’s just to get a kick out of Alice’s creative insults.


5. The Legend of Tianding

Developer: Creative Games Computer Graphics Corporation / Publisher: Neon Doctrine

Release Date: 2nd November 2021

Based on the traditional Taiwanese folk tale of Liao Tianding, who robs from the rich and gives to the poor (much like our well known tale of Robin Hood), The Legend of Tianding takes place in the early 20th century in Tapei City, Taiwan, under control of the Japanese. Follow Liao Tianding’s adventure though a variety of levels featuring 2D platforming and challenging boss fights.

Considering this is the first game by independent Taiwanese gaming team, CGCG Corporation, The Legend of Tianding has been very well received with ‘Overwhelmingly Positive’ reviews on Steam. It’s clear this team has a focus on quality as the game was smooth sailing on release with a stunning visual style including clean animations and an interesting story told using Traditional Chinese Manga panels. As for the gameplay, both the platforming and boss fights were fun and engaging with unlockable abilities, perks to collect and even a good handful of side quests to complete too – although this does require some backtracking. Overall, The Legend of Tianding is a cracking little game that definitely deserves more attention.


4. Inscryption

Developer: Daniel Mullins Games / Publisher: Developer Digital

Release Date: 19th October 2021

A deck building card game like no other, Inscryption is much more than meets the eye. Featuring escape room mechanics, table-top game design and psychological horror elements, this indie game by Daniel Mullins Games is an absolute gem and full of surprises that just keep on coming. The best way to enjoy Inscryption is by going in blind, which makes it a difficult game to talk about, but I’m doing my best to keep this as spoiler free as possible.

Inscryption provides an eerie atmosphere throughout every stage and takes the player on captivating and unpredictable journey. Overcome challenges given to you by the deranged gamemaster, sacrifice woodland critters and find yourself on the road to insanity. Inscryption‘s gameplay revolves around a unique trading card game featuring interesting deck building mechanics with quirky and creative ways to customise your deck as well as your opponent having some slick tricks up his sleeve. Even if deck building games aren’t usually your cup of tea, the ‘Overwhelmingly Positive’ reviews on Steam with almost 50,000 user reviews in just 3 months surely prove how much this game deserves your time.


3. Cupid Parasite

Developer: Otomate, Idea Factory / Publisher: Idea Factory International

Release Date: 5th November 2021

Idea Factory International are back localising otome games, with their first project being wacky, romantic comedy, Cupid Parasite. The story follows Lynette Mirror, a bridal advisor in the fictional city of Los York, who is in fact concealing her identity as Cupid. After wanting to prove to her father that it’s possible to matchmake without the use of her godly powers, Lynette descends to the human realm to earn the title of top bridal advisor, but in the way of her ultimate promotion stand the notorious Parasite 5, a group of 5 men no matchmaker has ever managed to satisfy.

Cupid Parasite is the game otome fans have been waiting for! It’s light hearted approach and bright, eye catching visuals stand out against other titles which provides a fantastic starting impression for what has been an absolute joy of a visual novel. The crazy concept was a great starting point, bringing both slice-of-life and mythological elements together, but the contrast within each of the datable characters’ personalities, and each of their well written routes, provided a heartfelt journey filled with emotion, charm and humour. Topped off with an excellent voice cast and a highly addictive soundtrack, the quality is definitely up there, but unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the state of the translation at launch. Even though Cupid Parasite had a rocky localisation release, a major patch has since rectified the issues and now I can confidently say that Cupid Parasite has been one of the best otome visual novels I’ve had the pleasure to experience.


2. Lost in Random

Developer: Zoink, Thunderful / Publisher: Electronic Arts

Release Date: 10th September 2021

Explore the atmospheric kingdom of Lost in Random, an action adventure game following our young protagonist, Even, on her quest to rescue her sister from the fated roll of the dice. Traverse the quirky districts of Random in this Burton-esque, fairy-tale inspired world where Even will meet a colourful cast of characters to guide her along the way, including her new companion, Dicey.

I had an absolute blast playing through Lost in Random, so much so that I found it very difficult to put down. The game had such wonderful charm with some stellar character design, high quality voice acting and fantastic world building. Each level was free to roam with collectables to seek and side quests to complete, but the main feature Lost in Random had to offer was it’s unusual deck building combat system. Throughout each level, Even collects cards for her deck which can be used in combat by rolling Dicey. This triggers a pause to the real time action and allows Even to use the cards she has in hand to cast an array of magical augments and enchantments before returning to the unpaused state where the action continues. Although the combat wasn’t especially challenging, experimenting with builds kept things interesting and the board game style events also provided variety, resulting in an addictive experience that’s unlike anything I’ve played before.


1. It Takes Two

Developer: Hazelight / Publisher: Electronic Arts

Release Date: 26th March 2021

It Takes Two is a fine example of a modern, 2 player co-operative experience. The protagonists, May and Cody, have reached a tough point in their marriage and cracks are beginning to show in their relationship. Their actions haven’t gone unnoticed by their daughter, Rose, who in attempting to resolve the issue, unintentionally casts a magic spell on her parents which unexpectedly turns them into miniature dolls. Now May and Cody must work together and overcome the challenges they face in order to return to their human forms.

If you’re into co-op games like myself, then It Takes Two should be on your radar. Although the game requires two people to play simultaneously, which does limit its audience marginally, the levels have been cleverly designed in a way to create a highly enjoyable and interactive journey for both parties. Every puzzle and/or obstacle requires the input of both May and Cody, resulting in some unique gameplay over a vast variety of beautiful stages, all of which include their own individual game mechanics. As well as the constant setting change keeping the game fresh, each level reflects on a part of May and Cody’s life, ultimately allowing them to reconnect with each other an rekindle their relationship. The inclusion of It Take Two‘s heart-warming story, vibrant visuals and outstanding attention to detail sets a fantastic mark for co-op gaming that will hopefully encourage other developers to take the plunge too as it’s reached a standard that is definitely worthy of GotY!


Special Mentions:

To finish off this post, here’s 3 more games that I played last year but weren’t released in 2021. I felt like I should mention these games as they all left a lasting impression and have since become some of my favourites.


3. Horizon Zero Dawn

Developer: Guerrilla Games / Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Release Date: 1st March 2017

I’d always had an interest in Horizon Zero Dawn but never got around to buying it, so when the game became available for free on PS4 during April as part of the PlayStation Play at Home promotion, I knew this was the perfect time to play it. Right from the beginning, I got sucked into the world and spent the majority of the next month well and truly hooked on completing every aspect, including The Frozen Wilds DLC. After 82 hours in game, this is probably the best freebie I’ve ever received, but I guess Sony did end up taking my money in the end as now I’ve preorded Horizon Forbidden West… They got me good…


2. Shadow of Memories

Developer / Publisher: Konami

Release Date: 30th March 2001

Shadow of Memories is a perfect example of an older mystery game with a decent time-travelling plot mechanic. I decided to play this game on the PS2 whilst I was in the process of upgrading my PC with an SSD, which obviously meant my PC couldn’t be used and re-installing Windows with all the programmes from scratch took much longer than I was anticipating. Although Shadow of Memories was fairly short, only taking a couple of days to finish, the pacing was great and I was impressed by the overall plot and multiple endings. Despite it not being the best game I’d played throughout the year, it’s seemed to stick with me and has since encouraged me to try out a bunch of other older games I may have passed up on previously.


1. Our Life: Beginnings & Always

Developer / Publsiher: GB Patch Games

Release Date: 16th November 2020

A free game isn’t usually a good game, but Our Life: Beginnings & Always is one of the best titles I’ve ever downloaded on a whim. I’ve already played the game 3 times, twice with free content and once again after buying the DLC packs with each experience being just as great, if not better, than the last. Our Life stands out from other visual novels of its kind by allowing the player to completely shape their in-game character from their appearance, pronouns, sexuality and even trivial things like your favourite flower. These decisions also help to shape your new neighbour, Cove Holden, as this sweet slice-of-life story takes you on journey about the ups and downs of growing up together, and it’s all down to you how you want your relationship to develop. With more DLC on the way, Our Life: Beginnings & Always definitely deserves praise and I’m yet to find anyone that doesn’t have a soft spot for Cove.


Last year, I wrote about my Top 11 Games of 2020 in this post. Unlike the post I did for 2021, my ’11 Best Games I Played During 2020′ post contains games from any year since I was mainly targeting my backlog at the time. I played some great games back then too, so if you’re looking for some recommendations, go check it out!

I wish you all a belated Happy New Year, and as always,

Thanks for Reading!

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