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It can be easy to forget that many of the strongest games come from incredibly simple ideas: Tetris asks that you complete lines, Pong is digital table tennis, and Galaga merely requires you to destroy as many aliens as possible before they land. In their simplicity lies their strength: give the player enough interesting decisions to make and enough control to stay engaged and you have a winning, addictive formula. Vampire Survivors may not have originated that formula, but it will be the point of comparison that all subsequent imitators are measured against.
Vampire Survivors’ simple premise — move a character around as they autofire their weapons at a horde of monsters and try and survive for thirty minutes — drives just enough player decisions to keep the game fresh and addictive. Condensing an RPG power curve into a single thirty-minute session is inspired and the escalation to the screen-filling finale is sublime. Add in enough esoteric secrets and unlockables to keep players coming back and a charming, low-fi aesthetic that can best be described as “public domain Castlevania” and you have one of the most accessible and fun games of the year. We’ll see you in thirty.
The pre-release material for Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin may have inspired more memes than excitement. Many thought this game was going to be a joke, and that it was an edgy Souls-clone several years past the trend. What players got, however, was fun action combat and job customization with a classic Final Fantasy skin. The game is a treat for anyone that ever enjoyed the original Final Fantasy on the NES, with several characters and bosses making an appearance in full 3D. It felt so good to shatter classic Final Fantasy nuisances like Tonberries and Bombs. Yes, some of the dialog could use some work, but it also made complete sense in the context of the game. It is a delightful story that put a twist on the original plot of the first Final Fantasy game. The game is fun, original, and has a high level of charm that many didn’t expect going in.
Matthias Linda’s Chained Echoes had plenty eagerly awaiting the game prior to its late-year release in December. Its multi-year development cycle is quite publicly known, with a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2019 and many updates teasing out further excitement, including an interview here at RPGamer. But even with that, Chained Echoes was one of the biggest surprises of the year due to its sheer unexpected level of quality throughout, taking both our staff and our readers’ hearts by storm. Hats off to you, Chained Echoes; you truly proved to be the little indie that could.
by Zack Webster, Kelley Ryan, and Pascal Tekaia