Ok, my friends. It’s finally time after weeks of build-up. This year has been sparse as far as games that I sunk my teeth into. I’ve outlined a few that were the equivalent of summer popcorn movie in this post here. There was one game I liked enough to give an actual award to which I wrote about here. Today, I’m finally ready to talk about my co-GOTY. I’ve written about both of them in length, but I have so much more to say. Since there are two, I have to talk about one of them first. There are two reasons for it. One, alphabetical order. Two, well, I’ll get to that later.
Before I get into all that, though, let me just give one obligatory honorary award first.
The game I’m desperately looking forward to but fear will never come out
Elden Ring (FromSoft)
With that out of the way, let’s get to my co-GOTY awards.
First up is a game that I was tempted to call The best game that I wasn’t good enough to beat until I was to continue a running joke and you know what? Let’s do it. Ready? Here we go!
Ok. Yesterday I covered games that were ok but not great. I talked about not-platting Dark Souls and Dark Souls III. Now, it’s time to hand out my meaningless and silly awards, but be forewarned–there aren’t many of them this year. This has been a strange year (duh!) for games (oh) because on the surface, there have been a lot of games that have had people talking. Animal Crossing New Horizons (especially important at the beginning of the pandemic); AssCreed Valhalla (fuck Ubisoft. No, seriously. They should have gotten WAY more shit for covering up all the sexual abuse at their company), and; Cyberpunk 2077 (fuck CD Projekt Red as well for being liars about their game and about being ‘for the people’. Also, for all their blatant isms in the game). These are just three of the major games released this year and I have not played any of them. Then there were the social games like Fall Guys, Among Us, and Phasmaphobia, none of which I played, either. I did buy A Mungus, though. I’ve realized that I’m not going to get on the hype train for most games that other people like. There is one glaring exception to that which I’ll get to in a second.
Side Note: I don’t get why people find Phasmaphobia scary to watch. I get why it might be scary to play, but watching it does nothing to me. Then again, watching most scary games being played does nothing to me. Anyway. Whatever. Just a side note.
In the interest of full disclosure. There are three games I’ve flagged for my end-of-the-year awards. Two will be my co-GOTY while the third is an honorable runner up.
There has been a trend in indie games in the past decade or so to make heartwarming games that have heartfelt narratives. In general, I approve of this trend because why not have more emotions instead of just stab, stab, stabbing everyone? It’s not a coincidence, I don’t think, that it’s indie devs who are cutting this pathway and not the triple A devs. Anyway, one of the first games I played that fit into this category was Gone Home by Fullbright. It was a mystery puzzle game that had the protagonist going home and finding everyone gone. You find out by picking items up and reading descriptions, then piecing together the story. It turns out that your younger sister is gay, and the story is quite heartbreaking.
Or at least it should be. I was eager to play the game because it had received universally high praise across the board. People were giddy about the representation and the story so I was eager to dive in. I was…underwhelmed to say the least. First, I have to say that my computer at the time couldn’t handle the game and would shut down after an hour or two of me playing it. The game wouldn’t save, so I’d have to start over again. And again. No matter what I did before my computer shut down, it wouldn’t save. I fully admit that probably biased me towards not enjoying the game.
However, I must also note that while I was playing it, I had the feeling of ‘is this it?’ in the back of my mind the whole time. Not that the story wasn’t compelling. Not that I wasn’t happy to have representation in games. It’s just that I couldn’t stop thinking that I’d read similar stories in YA literature. I realize it’s a different medium and it hadn’t been done before in video games, but it still fell flat to me. I was glad it existed, but it really didn’t do much for me.
A parallel of that is a game I recently called If Found by Dreamfeel. It’s about a trans teen (late teens) in rural Ireland and the travails of her daily life. It’s a short game and can be finished in an hour, and I like the mechanic of erasing things. The story is sad and familiar, but at the same time, it just….I don’t know. It felt slightly hollow for me. But I’m not a trans teen who’s feeling isolated by her gender so I don’t think I’m qualified to comment on that aspect. It’s also a game I’m glad exists, and I hope there are trans teens who play it and feel seen.
In a year that has blown all the chunks all over the place AND has thus far had nary a word from FromSoft on Elden Ring, Spiritfarer by Thunder Lotus Game has blown into my life like a breath of fresh air. I tried the demo which was fifteen minutes long, and I immediately fell in love with the game. It’s bittersweet, lovely, charming, and very emotional. Last week, I wrote about my issues with the game, but emphasized that they did not take away from the game overall.
I will note that there’s one additional issue I have with the game and this was a rather big one. There were two passengers whom I could not stand. I realize that it’s part of the bigger picture–not everyone in our lives is someone we like. Also, there’s a reason Stella has run into this wide array of people (something I found out in a newsletter but was not made clear in the game). While I understand it on an intellectual level, I still reacted to these two characters with a visceral dislike.
The first was one of two brothers. Bruce and Mickey. Mickey was a water buffalo who didn’t talk. It became clear that he was comatose and his brother, a hummingbird, was caretaking for him. Bruce was a huge asshole, and I actively avoided him as much as I could. In addition, the rest of the passengers’ moods were negatively affected by the brothers as they all ‘felt bullied (ha)’ by Mickey. His story was really sad, but it didn’t balance out how incredibly unpleasant Bruce was. When I took them to the EverDoor, I was so relieved to get rid of them. I felt some sorrow for them because of their story, but I was happy to see the back of them.
The other was Elena, a dog. I think a greyhound or something similar. Something lithe and sleek. She’s an ascetic who is very monk-like in her Spartan attitude. She’s also a complete asshole. She was a teacher in life, and she took pleasure in breaking her students who she viewed as beneath her. She’s the one who assigns you timed events, and if you don’t do them to her specifications, she berates you. I felt bullied by her, and I stayed away from her as much as possible. Yes, there was a poignant reason why she was the way she was, but at that point in the game, I didn’t care. She’s the passenger who didn’t like to be hugged, by the way, not to anyone’s surprise.
This week, I finished two things. I’ve talked about both on this blog, and I’m going to do it again. The first is Spiritfarer by Thunder Lotus Games. It’s a game I had my eye on for quite some time, but I forgot about it because there was no chatter. Understandable as it’s an indie game that doesn’t neatly fit into any one genre, but, man, I really think it’s an underrated game. Those who played it and reviewed it LOVED it, but it’s not enough people. I’ve gone back and wandered about in a desultory fashion to find the secret chests I missed and because Med the community manager sent a newsletter with a BIG reveal that I didn’t get from the game itself. In retrospect, there were subtle hints, but they were easy to explain away or overlook at the time.
The other thing I finished this week was the Sabre Form in taiji. Or, as my teacher calls it, graduated from the form. The first time she said it was when she taught me the final posture of the Solo Form, and I nearly laughed in her face. I might have ‘known’ the whole form, but I wouldn’t be allowed to do it myself without heavy guidance. Now, many years later, I’ve done the form so many times, I could do it in my sleep. Well, I could have before it got radically changed by my teacher’s teacher. That’s another story for another day, though.
I can’t stop thinking about how much I hated the Sabre Form the first time my teacher taught it to me. I resented every minute, and I did not understand it at all. I wanted it to be the Sword Form, and it wasn’t. By the way, I’m beyond ecstatic that I’m learning a new Sword Form. It’s such a finesse weapon, which is not like me at all. Or at least….That’s the point of this post, and we’ll get to that later. For now, I’m musing about the Sabre Form and how it went from not to hot. While the sword is still my beloved, the saber has become my bestest friend. The karambit is the the honey of the moment, and the cane is that entertaining friend that always makes you feel better when you see them (as long as it’s not TOO often).
The saber is an infantry weapon. It’s not a thinking person’s weapon, and taiji is the scholar’s martial art. It’s about power, and I do feel powerful when I brandish it. Sometimes, I feel like a swashbuckler and sometimes I feel like a Hun. I feel as if I can do anything–and it feels good. I feel like I’m saying, “Don’t fuck with me!”, and I’m backing it all the way the fuck up.
The Sword Form is still my favorite, but it’s not about the power. It’s about elegance and grace, and it’s a finesse form. It’s about cutting someone before they know that you’ve even moved, and it’s about severing tendons. That doesn’t sound elegant or graceful, does it? The saber is about smashing and cleaving. That’s more in keeping with the nature of the weapon.
Side note: Just because the sword is a finesse weapon, it doesn’t mean it’s not deadly. It is; it’s just not the main point of the weapon.
I finished Spritfarer last night. I’m not ready to talk about that because I need to digest it, so I want to talk about the issues I had with the game instead. Before I do that, however, I want to note that this is in contention for my GOTY. I mean, it is my GOTY so far, and I have a hard time believing that something is going to replace it because no way Elden Ring is releasing this year. Sigh.
::pours one out for Elden Ring::
What I’m saying is that it’s a fantastic game. I adore it. It made me laugh, and it made me cry, cry, and cry again. I poured over forty hours into it in a little more than a week. I would hop on to play for half an hour or an hour and five hours later….It’s fucked with my sleep even more, but at least it’s something I wanted to be doing. I 100%ed the game, and I found most of the secrets. There are a few chests and such I didn’t uncover, but otherwise, I know every inch of this game.
I say all that because I want to emphasize that my wishlist for Spiritfarer (by Thunder Lotus Games) is not about hating the game but about wanting to make it even better. No game is perfect, and it’s my nature to discuss everything about something I love–including the flaws. It’s the way I roll so here we go.
One of my biggest issues with the game is the platforming. I’ve said before (and I’ve said it so many times), if a game isn’t a platformer, the platforming usually sucks. The Dark Souls series is a perfect example of this in that each game has a platforming section that is utter balls. Platforming demands precise controls, and in games where that isn’t the focus, well, let’s just say that it can be frustrating for those of us with shitty reflexes.
In order to explore this fully, I have to talk about the full slate of abilities you can get in this game. Fair warning about spoilers and such. The game is backloaded with the more advanced abilities, which is another issue I have with the game. In fact, let’s talk about that first. The abilities are Jump which you get almost right away, Double Jump, also an early ability. Glide–somewhere around the middle.