Editor’s note: Throughout December, we’ll all be posting our own personal “Games of 2021” like Lilia has here! Watch out for contributions from Trent, Conor, Isaac and me very soon.
It’s already December, and for the sake of any last minute upsets while creating a top 10 list for my personal best games of 2021, I’ve made up my personal picks already.
Don’t see Shin Megami Tensei V here? It’s because I still haven’t gotten around to playing it just yet. Don’t see Resident Evil Village either? You can check out why that is in my review of it!
This list is entirely personal, so you’ll be seeing the usual suspects as far as my main genre interests are concerned — visual novel and otome types predominantly — with a few indie titles chucked in too for good measure.
Since we’ll doubtless have to agree to disagree on some of these, let us know what your own personal favourites have been for this year in our socials or comments below!
Inkslinger is a visual novel/typing game. It’s the debut of the duo team, Gateway, which consists of Jacob Hvid Amstrup and Lucas A. V. Møller. It’s also one of the best games of 2021.
Players are the titular Inkslinger, working in Brassknee’s Wordshop, and your reason for living is to put clients’ messages down on paper. Your inkveins will either thrive or wither depending on your clients’ satisfaction with your completed pieces, culminating in one of four endings.
The inhabitants of the game’s setting, Isle Shammer, are all eccentric and greatly characterised exclusively through their dialogue, and the game has an overall sense of polish in a brooding, Gothic style, with gorgeously vivid and detailed prose. The game is a subtle, sometimes cryptic experience — character stories are interwoven and linked to the overarching narrative about who exactly the Inkslinger is, and these stories make up the majority of the worldbuilding through how they explain their life experiences, status and personal issues.
And these truly do set up a unpleasant picture, taking in death notices and confessions of a rapist along the way. But when it comes to the exploration of the Inkslinger, the story is represented through flashbacks depending on the choices you made when penning the letters — this triggers certain keywords that the characters will say. These are shown through visual novel-style scenes, but retain the game’s eye-catchingly minimalistic theme.
As a typing game, it’s a fairly casual experience, with only one client needing a letter to be penned within a given time limit. Each segment has players select around three different keywords for each paragraph to formulate the letters, and all you need to really do is simply take your time and determine which example paragraph suits the client’s needs the most.
Sound design and music are superbly immersive; the latter is best used during the game’s penultimate moments as we approach the truth of the Inkslinger’s past through the flashback sequences.
There is much to enjoy with this little gem of a game, and I’ll refrain from spoiling anything else; it should instead be experienced for yourself. Inkslinger is a unique, tragic, and memorable little tale with an experimental design — and a game that will genuinely surprise you. Absolutely one of the best games of 2021.
9. Blooming Panic
As far as favourite discoveries go, Blooming Panic simply had to make my Best Games of 2021 list because it’s one of the best indie otome games ever made, as well as one of my all-time favourite creations available on itch.io. When its developer, robobarbie, said that they put a lot of heart into the title, it is clear to see that they weren’t lying with just one look at the end product of their work — and it’s free, too.
Blooming Panic makes everything work. Its chatroom setting, the Internet based communication and humour of a tight-knit community of passionate nerds, the emotional cores of its love interests that become clear despite the game’s short runtime — Blooming Panic really does excel in every department imaginable over a number of bigger and more recognisable otome titles and dating sims.
Having its love interests fully voiced is an impressive feat in itself for an Otome Jam project, but the time and effort that has clearly been put into creating a coherent world and narrative is a delight to see. It’s extremely well thought out and executed. The chatroom design is well-captured and represented here, and the group interactions found within it gave me some of the biggest laughs in 2021.
Heartfelt, relatable, and comforting, Blooming Panic offers us a reality almost no different to our own, but one that thrives in positivity and good vibes at the end of it all. (Sounds a bit different to reality to me! – Ed.)
Blooming Panic is exceptionally brilliant, and if you need any further convincing to check it out, you can read my further thoughts on it here. Or better yet, see for yourself first hand and download it now for free on itch.io!
8. Motesolo: No Girlfriend Since Birth
Motesolo: No Girlfriend Since Birth is a video game I briefly mentioned back in my coverage of Death Come True as its only real point of comparison. The two games are the only real examples of Asian full-motion video games in Steam’s library — though some indie developers, particularly in the UK, have been experimenting with the format recently, too.
Motesolo’s context could not be any different to Death Come True, though, as it takes us on the journey of a blind date. Players are put into the shoes of Kang Ki-mo, a 29-year old office worker attending a blind date with Yumi Kim.
Unfolding mostly in the style of a visual novel, players have to select the right topic starters, responses and appropriate actions to not only appeal to Yumi, but manage our hero’s other connections outside of the café — that is, depending on what ending you’re aiming for. A point-and-click system is also featured at times, allowing you to explore the environment and discover information to use later, which adds another layer of interactivity to the title.
And because it’s an FMV game, decisions and consequences with awkward results really pack a punch in their delivery, resulting in moments reminiscent of mockumentaries such as The Office. The whole thing provides a really immersive experience, whether you’re making visual novel-style choices during conversations or exploring the multiple endings on offer — which range from emotional to beyond kooky.
You can also tinker around on Ki-mo’s mobile phone during the game to better familiarise yourself with our hero and his support network. By using the in-game social app we can discover further elements of characterisation and a number of side stories concerning the supporting cast. And one of its major appeals in how these opportunities are presented and explored whenever realistic chances arise, such as our heroine taking a toilet break. You can even send off texts that may come back to haunt you during a playthrough.
Part of the game’s fun comes from its nail-biting timed responses, where Yumi Kim’s opinion on you may plummet if you decide to choose a less than favourable option. It all adds to the hilarity of the situation almost all the time, but ultimately, you’re going to sympathise with not only Ki-mo through his relatability of being an awkward, inexperienced dater, but because he is not the only character who players can identify with.
Motesolo’s characters are each burdened with a certain aspect of life that means one or more of them will connect with each and every one of us — be it matters of unemployment, being overworked, anxiety over dating, and even infidelity.
The game is supportive in every way with all these emotional strings to its story — but its polished presentation may still be its best element. The point-of-view changing when Ki-mo remembers feedback and tips from his best friend, Sechi, is consistently eye-catching; in fact, the cinematography is consistently brilliantly shot, and the lighting is especially appealing, making the cosy and aesthetically pleasing café location a sheer joy to look at all the time.
Motesolo: No Girfriend Since Birth is a surprise hit in my books, and one of my best games of 2021. I can’t put into words how much I appreciate the hilarity of its shockingly questionable love expert, Dr. Casano Namgyu. Play the game just for him, at the very least.
BUSTAFELLOWS was one of my most hyped visual novel releases for this year, and boy, did it deliver, ending up as one of my personal best games of 2021. While Cupid Parasite ended up being the superior otome out of the two — more on that later — as far as commercial otome releases of this year go, my one and only main gripe with BUSTAFELLOWS is simply how short the experience ended up being.
When comparing the length of its individual routes to other otome titles, it left a lot to be desired; I wanted to see more of the developing relationships between main character Teuta and the various love interests!
But where BUSTAFELLOWS did shine is in every other department. For starters, its presentation and style set itself apart from other localised, commercial otomes. Its modernised New York-inspired setting is presented with a snappy and aesthetically pleasing movie-like look — it even features teaser animations after each chapter ends. On top of that, the slick UI perpetuates the overall high-budget look of the game, and the whole experience is packed with brilliant details you can’t help but appreciate.
And backing this impressively glossy appearance is the engrossing, hard-hitting, criminal edge to the narrative premise — and, of course, bad boys with a lot more depth than you would have expected. It all results in BUSTAFELLOWS being able to please the masses in general, whether they favour romance or story as their primary appeal element.
The compliments won’t stop there, as far as the characters are concerned. Teuta ticks a number of boxes as an ideal and impressive heroine. She’s voiced, she’s a rare example of a main character holding down a job and being of a slightly older age than we usually see in this kind of game, and she has a solid existing support network outside of the love interests’ group dynamic.
Her unique ability to time jump has her rescuing her partners instead of vice-versa for a change. And speaking of the group dynamic, the game touches upon various, compelling themes, such as poverty, defamation, and gun violence. The high-stakes and tension of it all is nicely broken up by many segments depicting Teuta and her love interests kicking back together in humorous and feel-good scenarios.
It’s unexpectedly wholesome and feels almost family-oriented despite the many moments of bloodshed, death and emotional turmoil in its routes. But best yet is how the routes are uniquely split up into two “sides” — with the “A-side” being the character route and the “B-side” being the fluffy and shorter prologue. It provides a happy medium of representing life’s ups and downs with a relatable main character you can’t help but support, an emotionally captivating narrative, and a slick and cool style in its presentation.
6. DRAMAtical Murder
DRAMAtical Murder is, and always will be, one of the greatest Boys’ Love video games out there — and with its official localised release I can call it one of the best games of 2021! That may be a bit of nostalgia talking as it was my own personal breakthrough into the BL genre — but the tight grip it has maintained on my very being and mindspace is something worth acknowledging after all these years!
It helps that DRAMAtical Murder is one of the most approachable titles from the Nitro+chiral studio — perhaps even from among Nitro+’s entire collected works, even those outside of the BL subgenre.
It has a bright design to it and a colourful cast of characters, both in terms of design and personality, and includes plenty of eye-catching visuals and background work. On top of that, there’s an unforgettable, electro-heavy OST that stands up well on its own but is even better in context; it complements the visuals so well, and the lyrics in the vocal tracks are poignant and relevant.
What’s most impressive about the title despite is just how big an impact it had across the Internet nearly a decade ago thanks to its first fan translation — and how relevant it has remained in the intervening time up until its official release. Having originally released in 2012, its sci-fi premise and themes relating to artificial intelligence have become significantly more important over time. Identity, humanism, self-acceptance, technology vs humanism, AI and existentialism are just a few examples of how the game delves into philosophy and theories that are more and more relevant to our everyday lives.
Ultimately, DRAMAtical Murder has the humour, heart, and smut to keep us all well and truly entertained and satisfied. This is all topped off with an underrated twist in its final route, some of the greatest love interests to have ever graced the visual novel genre, an effortlessly relatable main who you’ll be supporting throughout, and endearing character interactions that are juxtaposed with darker and edgier moments. It’s a truly mesmerising performance as far as BL titles go, and it’s arguably one any visual novel player should experience.
If all my compliments weren’t enough as is, here are my more extensive thoughts on it!
Buy it on Steam for £15.49.
First things first, I just knew I’d love MAMIYA from one look at its gorgeous art, and its synopsis highlighting an apocalypse and existentialism in young men. But despite what its heavily male-centred cast might make you assume about its genre, MAMIYA is no BL. Such assumptions are one reason I suspect many glossed over its potential despite it having no romantic aspects to its story.
Instead, MAMIYA tells a mystifying and deeply emotional tale with complexity and nuance. It is predominantly a story presenting the interweaving perspectives of a main cast who are all coping with the same loss, and the personal consequences of what death teaches its human characters. It is brilliantly written, with a strong translation and exploration of the psychology of its characters — each of whom are flawed yet indisputably sympathetic.
Their personal issues are hard-hitting and deeply relatable at times, sometimes being only hinted at, at others forcibly put under the microscope for maximum impact. From the get-go, MAMIYA tackles many heavy topics, with some being truly rare to see explored in the medium: depression, gender identity, abuse and morality are just a few examples, and this does not even get into the game’s visual representations of horror, violence and even suicide.
To say it is dark is selling it short, because its nuanced yet complex narration, jumping from person to person in bite-sized life events, makes the story progression wildly unique and unpredictable.
Ultimately, MAMIYA is an exploration of the fragility of humans — this theme is well represented within the game’s first hours, with the characters’ acknowledgement of their loneliness and insignificance to the world, while their subsequent unravelling into insanity and depression is a journey in itself. It pulls at the heartstrings whilst also keeping you up at night thinking about its deeply thought-provoking and disturbing themes.
Everything is just so bleak here, from its sad background designs to its brooding OST. It proves to be an alarming read throughout, packing in plenty of its twists with a surprising amount of foreshadowing to take notice of in multiple playthroughs. It’s a masterpiece, one of the best games of 2021 — and an experience you need to play first-hand.
Pick it up for £15.49 on Steam.
Speaking of masterpieces you need to play first-hand, I can’t praise this one enough! Inscryption was the last new video game I have played through for this year, and it’s bound to remain that way for just how addictive of an experience its primary gameplay is.
But its card-based/roguelike gameplay is just the tip of this chilling tale. We’ll be keeping this entry the shortest one for the sake of maximising player satisfaction — because spoiling the twists and turns in this game would be a great insult to all the effort put into crafting the experience.
Basically, Inscryption’s selling point of its gameplay is barely scratching its surface of what’s really going on. While its card-based/roguelike segments are greatly entertaining, its primary enjoyment is through the layered mystery that subtly opens up with each playthrough and every failed escape. The end result is a creative and hauntingly memorable story.
Inscryption has simply blown me away, and is absolutely one of my best games of 2021. The atmosphere here is penetrating in every design choice, be it the disturbing sound design, ominous OST, and the unique, dark art style, all of which makes it stand out for its genre. Both immersive and highly satisfying in its presentation and complexity in its puzzle solving, Inscryption has been the surprise hit for me this year, and I’m so grateful for having experienced it without any spoilers.
If you haven’t played this already, don’t wait for if and when the game gets spoiled for you, because it’s a masterpiece that you can pick up on Steam for £16.79.
3. It Takes Two
When it comes to co-op games, I barely have any I take much enjoyment out of as an adult. Certain hit titles were fun for a short while — think Fall Guys — while others are only viable as party games; Dreams immediately comes to mind for this.
With that in mind, it has most certainly been a while since I experienced a game that took me back to my childhood; the heyday of enthusiastically sitting down with a fellow family member or friend to plug in TimeSplitters or Crash Bash for some good old split-screen fun. But after all these years, I’ve recaptured that feeling with this year’s brilliant title It Takes Two — one of the best games of 2021, for sure.
I played this title on-and-off in between sessions of Haven with my significant other, and it was not only a blast to play together and enjoy the brilliant execution of two player-exclusive gameplay, but the very best takeaway from it was the heartfelt story. It Takes Two presents a reassuring stance on familial and romantic issues, with it concluding that arguments are not the be-all and end-all because of a hitch or two in communication — nor does love completely vanish when it has always been there.
The daughter character is very relatable; she feels emotional and stressed about the strained relationship between her parents — the game’s main characters — and her vulnerability and response to it hits hard. But the two main stars go through the motions of reminding themselves what love is, and learn how to appreciate one another once again. Ultimately, It Takes Two restored my heart with its positive messages, but that’s just about its story.
The game features a great variety in mechanical elements, with each level being wildly creative in design — some even playing out in a different genre to help make each one stand out narratively too. Each new challenge also chucks us new objects to use as weapons, and there are plenty of secret co-op minigames and puzzles that are both entertaining and rewarding for the players to partake in.
Highly creative, extremely compassionate, and irresistibly charming. Just don’t bring up the elephant.
Grab it now on Steam for £34.99 or on PS4, Xbox One, PS5, Xbox Series X, and Xbox Series S. Your co-op partner can play it for free! Thank you, Hazelight!
Gnosia was yet another visual novel I knew I would be excited to play this year, and my expectations were well and truly met. I pretty much threw my money at the Nintendo store’s screen as soon as the game released, and it was both one of the best decisions of my life, and one of the best games of 2021.
As a game that was sold to the masses as a single-player based Among Us or an interactive Alien video game, there’s no denying that its appeal comes from its sci-fi “there’s an imposter among us” setup. And while it’s true that this is the main concept for the game, Gnosia reveals itself to be so much more than that. Its slow-burner of a plot progresses as you tamper with the game’s social deduction set-up, and making connections with its eccentric cast ultimately leads to its mind-mending finale and emotional send-off.
As a hybrid visual novel, Gnosia involves some RPG-style stat management to make the best use of the time loops you find yourself in. In this way it plays out like a more interactive Raging Loop-style experience, where players have a sense of levelling up their perception of other characters, and can see the fruits of their labour by always improving their skills at playing “Werewolf”.
Its non-linear narrative and the slow progression of character revelations makes for an engrossing time you simply can’t look away from as truths after truths are gradually revealed. And even then its many paradoxes will have you still thinking over the possibilities and theories of its universe — the characters will never truly leave you, even once you start seeing repetition in their dialogue.
Gnosia packs so much into its 15+ hours of game-time, and features an impressive ensemble of diverse identities on board the spaceship — plus plenty of shocking revelations and secret interpersonal relationships to discover. If I had just one complaint, it’s that I can’t wipe my memory of it to replay it blind once more.
For even more of my thoughts on the title, check out my review, or just buy it on the Switch. Or you can wishlist it for its upcoming Steam release. I implore you, don’t miss out on this one — it absolutely is one of the best games of 2021!
1. Cupid Parasite
Did anyone expect anything else at this point? As far as otome releases are concerned, Cupid Parasite is not only my favourite release in the genre this year, but one of the best Nintendo exclusives — as well as ranking in my top 5 otomes ever. And obviously, it’s been my personal best game of 2021, full stop.
Where to begin with all my compliments? Firstly, Cupid (or Lynette Mirror as us mere mortals would address her as) is a solid main character, with a strong work ethic — something we barely ever get to witness in the genre. She has a headstrong personality and can get quite snappy with the love interests; she’s often the one in the driver’s seat when it comes to pushing the narrative onwards and the love interests towards greatness.
As a romcom with a fantastical twist — its main character is, as previously mentioned, the one and only Cupid — the romance angle is refreshing; the otherworldly main character makes for a fun variation on the usual formula, and the love interests actually take a bit more of a back set for the overarching narrative.
Speaking of the love interests, they are all vastly different in behaviour and attitude to one another, even when it comes to their reasons for joining the Cupid Corporation. They will doubtless not be to everyone’s preferences — at least at first glance — but that’s what makes Cupid Parasite as entertaining as it is! The game’s “love match” test shows that each love interest falls into one of six categories according to their “love type” — though some of these will not be obvious until you experience the character’s route for yourself.
And even then the surprises don’t stop coming, because whoever’s idea it was to have its routes take a detour from the established romcom genre was a fantastic decision. The surprising directions the various narratives go in makes for highly engrossing storylines that never run out of steam — and they’re sometimes so entertaining, you’ll find yourself wanting to finish the route in one sitting.
It likely goes without saying at this point that Allan became an instant all-time favourite route within the genre, simply due to how much its storyline managed to pack in. There was star-crossed and taboo love, plenty of angst and even time jumping — lots to enjoy, for sure.
Combine all that with a memorable OST and the delightful onslaught on your eyes that is the vibrant UI, Cupid Parasite really captures a movie-like feel. The use of wholly unique lyrical tracks to represent each of the love interests, too, is a design choice that is extremely well-executed — I wouldn’t have Cupid Parasite any other way.
It’s the quickest playthrough I ever did of an otome ever — and you can read my of it at greater length in my review.
Cupid Parasite is exclusive to the Switch right now, and dare I say it — you should consider buying a Switch just to experience it if you haven’t already. I’m that confident you’ll find enjoyment from it.
Those are Lilia’s picks for her Games of 2021 — what are yours? Sound off down in the comments or via our usual social channels, and Trent, Conor, Isaac and Pete will be along with their choices soon.
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