Even though my 2020 in gaming was on the mediocre side, the same wasn’t true with manga. I read a lot of great stuff this past year, more than I can fit in this post. In addition to the ending of 2018‘s Manga of the Year, Silver Spoon, I wrapped up the comedic essay manga Skull-Face Bookseller Honda-san. There was also the first volume of Drawn & Quarterly’s long-awaited collection of Yoshiharu Tsuge works, The Swamp; What the Font?!, an informative introduction to typefaces; the cute BL story Our Dining Table; Sneeze, a solid short works collection by Naoki Urasawa; and the entertaining brain candy The Seven Princes of the Thousand-Year Labyrinth. Even a classic series I didn’t quite take to, Ai Yazawa’s Paradise Kiss, had a bit to recommend it. Note that not one of the manga I just named made it to the final list; that’s how good this past year was for me.
This ranking is done in much the same way as with my Gaming Selections, with honorable mentions and a top three. After each manga’s title is the author(s), the North American publisher, the first year of Japanese serialization, and the number of volumes I’d read roughly up until the end of 2020 (followed, in parentheses, by the total number of Japanese volumes). Series printed in omnibus, kanzenban, or similar editions are denoted with an asterisk (*), but the numbers reflect the original volumes as they were first printed in Japan. All of the cover images used here came from Right Stuf or the publisher’s website. Finally, there are no repeats from previous years’ lists in either the honorable mentions or the top ten, even if I was still reading (and loving) a particular series.
Well, that was a year. On-topic, I wish it had been a better one gaming-wise. There were the usual standouts, sure, but I feel that overall, the quality of the games I played was merely okay. Two games I want to highlight which didn’t qualify for this year’s list are Surviving Mars and Yakuza 0. If you like challenging city builders at all, Surviving Mars is a treat, and features a good variety of DLC; if I had to recommend just one, it would be Space Race, which fleshes out the core game with rivals, mini story events, and other features. As for Yakuza 0, it might end up being the best game I’ve ever played that’s not for me. I’m enjoying my time with it, but it’s also overwhelming in that way that the most celebrated open-world games are. I’m close to the end of both games; don’t be surprised if they surface in the 2021 Selections.
As usual, every game here is one I’ve beaten (or played extensively, in the case of “endless” titles) during the past year, regardless of release date. For each game in the top ten, the title, developer/author, platform(s) I played it on, and the release date for said platform in my region has been included, along with a little bit about why I found this game so memorable.
I haven’t posted in quite some time, and I apologize about that. Part of this is due to all the work involved in settling into a new house, another part is probably because of 2020’s unique stressors, and yet another is thanks to my propensity to procrastinate. There’s also the matter of certain games that I’ve been playing, which I’ll be discussing here today. The main titles in this batch are all lengthy and dense with content; I’ve been playing one of them since last December, and the other two since July.
That said, this installment of Braincrumbs contains impressions, not reviews. The first game is a city builder with no proper campaign, though there are a set of storylines which I’m still working through. The second is a live service mobile game with an ongoing main storyline and regular events, and the third is the meatiest open-world adventure I’ve ever played. I’ve been playing all three in between some shorter games, and I have no idea when I’ll be done with them.
We moved, and somehow even managed to order and receive some new furniture. That process wasn’t without its own headaches, and it’s not over yet. Nor is the unpacking; for starters, I’m still trying to figure out how to store and display my massive figure collection, especially since we have no walk-in closets this time. At least I was able to set up my office by mid-June, though a few other areas, such as the living room, are a work in progress.
The first thing I played on my desktop computer in the new house was Dungeons 3, which I reinstalled after picking up the latest and final DLC, “A Multitude of Maps”, during the ongoing Steam Summer Sale. As opposed to a mini-story, this DLC consisted of a set of skirmish maps, and given that I hadn’t touched the game in some time, it took awhile to reacquaint myself with the basics of play. The maps and missions were well designed, though I did miss having story content tying them all together.
Speaking of that sale, I installed Augmented Steam alongside a couple of other related browser extensions recently, and have been using it to see what the stats are for certain smaller games on my wishlist. Although I knew on an academic level that a lot of newer indie games have abysmal sales on Steam, it was still shocking to see some great-looking games—some of them rather highly-ranked on my wishlist—with Steam Spy-estimated ownership stats of 20,000 or less. My current plan is to buy a handful of these, including at least one at full price, alongside a few others that have done somewhere between a little bit and a lot better before the sale’s over.
The world is weird right now, especially here in New Jersey, but given that we had spent most of our time at home pre-pandemic anyway, some things haven’t changed. We did buy a house, though, a process which began during more “normal” times and concluded with a socially-distanced closing. Some painting and other work is being done on it right now, and we’re hoping to move in this coming Saturday. In other words, we’ve been keeping busy with packing, contractors, and related bits of business. We’ve also been patronizing our favorite local restaurants as much as we can via takeout, especially since we’ll soon be moving on to a new set of eateries in a different town.
There have been many strange little things about this pandemic—the memes have been a highlight—but one of the oddest for me personally has been seeing jigsaw puzzles explode in popularity. I’ve been a jigsaw puzzle hobbyist for a long time, as has my mom, and finding puzzles to send to her as an early Mother’s Day gift to help stave off some of her boredom was tough, as many online shops’ stocks have been depleted. I currently have a dozen puzzles in my personal backlog, but couldn’t do any of them after a certain point because they had to be packed away for moving. This whole situation with puzzles’ popularity is baffling but understandable, and I hope some people stick with it after this is all over, as it’s a relaxing and meditative hobby.
Anyway, let’s get started. Today’s reviews feature a 60+ hour JRPG, and a JRPG that was nowhere near that long, but felt like it. I’ve also included the platforms I played on this time, something I’ll try and stick with for future reviews.
Sometimes ideas come along that you had never planned in the first place, and you just have to execute them. Thus, despite my announcement that there would be no Holiday Card this year, about a couple months ago, I started work on a game. It’s not a Holiday Card, though, so it’s technically okay, right?
This time around, it’s a fangame loosely inspired by my all-time favorite, the original Final Fantasy VII, titled DARK CITY FOURTH STREET, Part One: The Sprawl. This title was inspired by a very peculiar part of FFVII‘s Debug Room, and the plot takes Hironobu Sakaguchi’s original idea for FFVII as a detective story and runs with it. It tells the tale of detective Cloud Strife as he takes on a job related to the environmental terrorist group AVALANCHE, and branches out in a few different directions. There are a number of endings, and even some hidden scenes. Also, as with a certain other revisiting of the FFVII world, this game is the first installment in a series, and ends when Cloud leaves Midgar.
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