Backloggin’ the Year – Pascal’s Pile, October to December 2021
Welcome to Backloggin’ the Year, a feature that discusses the challenges and excitement that come with working through your backlog. In this edition, Pascal wraps up the year by finishing several RPGs, visual novels and Metal Gear spoofs, the entire Freebird Games catalog, and a bunch of other games big and small.
Xuan-Yuan Sword 7, Yakuza 6, Gamedec, Voice of Cards
My RPG completion rate for the final quarter of 2021 was sort of middling. Four RPGs sounds like a good amount, but only two of them (Xuan-Yuan Sword 7 and Yakuza 6: The Song of Life) were of considerable length, and really none were particularly difficult, barring the odd spike here and there. I’ve already talked at length about each of them — most received dedicated reviews, while Yakuza was completed just in time to record a full-length Backtrack episode. Instead of retreading previously covered ground, I’ll just offer a few brief words about each.
I was pretty excited about Xuan-Yuan Sword 7: a long-running series steeped in Chinese mythology sounded very intriguing. The world and combat, however, were just a tad less refined than I’d hoped. Gamedec also sounded really great on paper — a future cyberworld full of debauchery and seediness — but the storytelling didn’t have the same edge as its premise. Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars was a cute and creative RPG, even if its simple gimmick of having everything (even menus) made of cards needed a bit more oomph to support it. But all of this was more than made up for by Yakuza 6, which gave a fittingly cheesy and gloriously over-the-top ending to an equally over-the-top saga that I’ve spent the better part of eighteen months with. By the time the credits rolled, tears had been shed and laughs had been laughed. Now I just hope to never, EVER play another game in which a baby cries and coos at me from my controller’s speaker. That was about the most annoying thing I’ve ever had to endure in a game, not to mention just plain creepy.
UnMetal, Coffee Talk, Layton’s Mystery Journey, DDLC, In Rays of the Light
I dabbled in a pretty eclectic selection of games these past few months. Fran Games, which has a track record of Metroidvania titles, has now taken on the stealth espionage world. UnMetal is a satirical look at Hideo Kojima’s 2D classic, with some modern quality-of-life enhancements to sweeten the deal. It’s good fun, and I really enjoyed the nostalgia vibes it sent out. Coffee Talk is a chill, relaxing game about brewing drinks as a barista in a late-night coffee shop in rainy Seattle and learning about the lives of various vampires, werewolves, and other assorted fantasy creatures who frequent the place. (Anna Marie did a more comprehensive write-up of it here.) Finally, Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy is pretty much the same old Layton, but with his daughter as the protagonist while the professor himself is on, well, a mystery journey. I haven’t followed the series lately, and this game’s individual cases are nice palate cleansers rather than one big mystery to solve, but either way, I’m just so happy to live in a world where Layton games continue to be a thing.
The next game is far less happy and pleasant. Doki Doki Literature Club is a tough game to play, digest, and write about. At the same time, I feel that it is also a very important game, due to how it deals with some severe mental health issues, and in a very concrete and in-your-face way that’s not sugar-coated. I wonder, though, if it would be a great recommendation for someone suffering from depression. There’s a line that stuck with me and, to me, encapsulates how sad and heartbreaking this game is at times: “The only time I’m not feeling nothing is when I’m feeling pain.” Wow. Finally, In Rays of the Light is thematically very different once again, taking place entirely in a derelict Soviet building (maybe a university hall or something like that). It’s a first-person thriller, a little spooky at times but not at all scary, consisting mostly of walking around with a small handful of puzzles to solve.
To the Moon series, My Memory of Us, Lost Words, House of Ashes
If this column isn’t already proof enough, adventure games are my second passion next to RPGs — the point-and-clickier, the better. Freebird Games’ To the Moon has long been one of my favorites of the genre, pretty much becoming an instant classic on my first playthrough. To get ready for Impostor Factory, the latest entry in the series, I replayed the entire series again, from To the Moon to A Bird Story and Finding Paradise. None of them have quite reached the same level as the first installment, but Impostor Factory did add some interesting new wrinkles to the formula.
My first impressions of My Memory of Us and Lost Words: Beyond the Page were almost identical: cute side-scrolling adventures about young kids facing grown-up adversity that would do their best to tug at the heart strings. For the most part, I was right, but neither game was quite as emotional as I’d thought. Both games are also noteworthy for their great voice-over narration, and while Memory boasts Patrick Stewart, I have to give the nod to Words here, as the narrator is so great that she almost single-handedly sold me on the game. No less well acted is The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes, though it certainly evokes a very different emotion. This latest installment in Supermassive’s annual horror game series is, so far, definitely my favorite of the bunch, which surprised me as I initially didn’t think the modern-day, war-torn Iraqi desert setting would be fruitful ground for scares. However, I very much enjoyed my time with it, cheese and all, and the end-credits teaser for the next installment already has me pretty excited!
Sadly, Swordbreaker is in a category on its own, not only because it is a different type of game from all the other ones I played, but its lack of polish also puts it in a class of its own. Essentially a choose-your-own adventure about an adventurer attempting to infiltrate a castle to find hidden treasure, the game is nothing more than short text boxes and forced trial-and-error choices. There’s no voice-over (outside of the intro cinematic), the text is in need of a once-over by a native English speaker, and there’s usually neither rhyme nor reason as to which choices will kill you and which won’t. The artwork that accompanies each scene, at least, is quite nice and plentiful, but this one is a budget title with very little staying power.
This brings my 2021 backlog quest to a close. There were some highs and lows along the way, and I completed a good number of games throughout the year, averaging almost one per week. But many of my backlog’s major hitters did not get touched at all, so I have mixed feelings. Oh well, the new year is already off to a pretty decent start, as I’ve found that scheduling guest appearances on RPG Backtrack is a great motivation to polishing off some games badly in need of completion. Here’s to 2022!
2021 at a Glance
Total Games Completed: 50
Total RPGs Completed: 11