Our palindrome year draws to a close at the time appointed by whatever mushroom-addled lunatics the Romans had calculating their calendar. Fuckin' entrail-sniffing madmen, I swear. Regardless, as the memes of internet production-consumption dictate, here are things I enjoyed in this blink-and-you'll-miss-it-year.
They are in no order, neither chronologically nor of importance. Several of them will have already been mentioned elsewhere. Many of them will be weighted towards the end of the year because what is time and what is memory.
Bones of Contention
This year saw the kickoff of a collaborative rpg review site, featuring assorted luminaries (and me also) doing the whole reviewing deal. While I have written comparatively little for it thus far, that is of minimal importance in comparison to the project as a whole. It's good stuff. Good reviews, written by folks I am glad to know. I'm glad to be a part of it, and I look forward to a second good year of it.
The Plangent Mage session we did was loads of fun. I played as a golden lion tamarin-man who was one half of a comedy duo with Zedeck's halfling.
A sterling example of a creator going "I love this thing, except for all the bullshit, so I will make my own better version" The thing in question is Naruto (oh god we are in the era now where people who were into Naruto as teens and tweens are now making their own stuff informed by it) to a degree nearly parodic: there are characters and scenarios and archetypes that are practically 1:1 correlations. Except good this time - Nigh-miraculously for the subgenre it inhabits, no one's annoying. No one. I like all of these characters. The fights are lean mean and excellently animated, the monsters are weird and grotty, the cast has good chemistry and the side characters get their cool moments.
There's a genuine warmth to the friendship of the main trio: Itadori's meathead brute strength is matched by just being an all-around decent bloke, Megumi's edginess isn't all that sharp and the others razz him for it constantly, Nobara's rough around the edges (or as Mon correctly describes, a "motherfucker extreme") but still clearly cares for the others. Also there's no romance subplot. None. Not even a crush to be seen. A+.
And, and this cannot be stated with enough emphasis, this is a shonen battle series that does a remarkably good job with its female cast. Nobara has a scene that boils down to "take your internalized misogyny and shove it up your ass, I'm not going to live my life according to what you think I should be", which is not a scene I was expecting from a shonen battle series. There are actual motivations! Strengths and flaws of character!
Super Mario Odyssey
Late to the party on this one. The wahoo-woohoo pizza-pasta man does a run and jump and it feels fuckin' phenomenal.
Monster Hunter Rise
A sequel that, as far as I am concerned, invalidates its predecessor. Where in World I played super-cautiously because hunts were so long and I didn't want to waste my time getting stomped, the movement and traversal mechanics added to Rise make the gameplay loop so, so much faster. Which is good, because then you can actually play the game and learn from failures instead of just getting frustrated by the waste of effort. This is where it really clicked for me. Better online, too.
I've talked about it before. Comic good. Can't wait for the anime. It's gonna be era-defining, I feel it in my bones. If you know you know, if you don't know I encourage you to learn.
Caves of Qud
The most recent major update added more convenient ways to play without permadeath, and now that I am actually able to play the game without dying instantly to baboons (god the acid-spitting slugs later on must be impossible in roguelike mode), I can safely say that it is OSR as hell: creative problem solving with the tools you have on hand and their many interactions with the world around you is the name of the game.
There's an entire post that needs written about Qud, I assure you it will happen.
My Lord of the Rings Reread
At first glance this game seems like a grab bag cobbled together from other games' scraps. Ability-gated exploration, check. Dark fantasy setting, check. Gaining new abilities from defeated enemies, check. Sad lore journals, check. And yet somewhere in the alchemy of art and sound and the moment-to-moment experience of play, it turns into something I can't quite shake. For the genre, it's above quite a few I have played in quality (Bloodstained Ritual of the Night being a noteworthy disappointment), and the fact that I at least wanted to (but never did) try for a 100% (which I basically never do) is certainly a point in its favor. The last couple areas and the final boss do show clear signs of being rushed, but if you are looking for a game with sad Souls vibes and Metroidish gameplay, it's a good pick.
Guilty Gear Strive
Anime Bullshit: The Game. The real good stuff, the primo designer shlock-rock. And a damn good game besides: I'm not a fighting game person but the art and good word of mouth got me in and something has clicked into place. I'm not good at it, mind you, but I'm having fun. I can go into the multiplayer lobbies and have a good time when I lose, I can see myself improving. The matchmaking system they have is excellent at keeping you around players of your own skill level.
There are many narrative podcasts out there and Midst takes the crown as my favorite. Trading in the trite and tired "character talking into recording device" for a dynamic and snappy three-member Greek chorus, Midst moves at a breakneck pace through its weird sci-fantasy world. Information overload gives way to understanding, and within a few episodes you're keeping speed with it all.
Music good, voice work excellent, characters good, setting A+. Chef's kiss.
Fate decided to work in my favor this year, and so I was able to spend a couple days in Gettysburg with my partner back in May. The weather was wonderful, the park uncrowded, and the place we were staying at was affordable. Did a whole lot of walking (Think we managed 12 miles in one day) went to a cat-themed diorama museum with a very friendly dog, and for a tourist town the food was reasonably priced. Waaaaaaay too many ticks, though. They need more possums.
Also Pickett's Charge gets undersold for how big of a tactical blunder it was. I am astounded that there wasn't a general mutiny when he gave that order. Like you hear the scenario and go "that's stupid, he's rushing troops up a hill with no cover towards a fortified position", but then you actually see the battlefield and it hits you that it was so much dumber than that description entails. Anyone ever claims that Lee was a good general they are out of their fucking minds unless they mean he was good at getting loads of his own men killed and then losing.
Subtitle: JoJo's Bizarre Vaporwave Murder Mystery Invesitagtion Simulation With a God Damn Double Jump And A Fuckin' Airdash.
Play it. Barring that, listen to the soundtrack.
And there we go. It's not all, of course, it's never all. There have been cats fostered, I finally started with antidepressants. Unicorn Meat nears its completion. The plague years continue and while it feels like there's a whole lot of going in circles and time slipping through fingers like water...it's okay. We're all hangin' in there.