There continues to be some great manga making its way into English translation, from the latest award-winning hits to classics either being reprinted in lovely new editions, or coming out for the first time. I apologize for the lateness of this biannual installment, but I hope you enjoy it, and that it helps guide your own manga reading for the next couple of years.
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 December 2022 (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.
I don’t have much to say about this past year other than it was busy and stressful, and I didn’t get through as many games as I wanted to. There were a handful of gems in the ones I did play, though, especially the Game of the Year. I also didn’t blog as much here in 2022 as I had hoped to do, and to be honest, I’m not sure I can pick up the pace in 2023. More than anything else, 2022 has left me tired. Here’s hoping for a more energetic 2023, whether or not that means I post here on a more regular basis.
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 year for said platform in my region has been included, along with a little bit about why I found this game so memorable.
I don’t replay games as often as I used to, in part because my backlog of fresh, new-to-me titles has grown so large. The last time I did was in August 2020, when I played through the version of Pinky:st Kira Kira * Music Hour released in Europe, titled Kira Kira Pop Princess. Still, ports and reissues of games I’ve played before enter my collection from time to time, causing me to file mental notes to someday replay the likes of Phantom Brave, Halo: Reach, and Final Fantasy IX.
Given that one of my projects this year has been to whittle down the Ys wing of my backlog, on this year’s agenda was Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim. The PS2 port of Ys VI was one of the games I wrote about during the very first year this blog was in operation, and I was curious to see how it had held up. This time, I played the PC version, which, aside from the addition of save point warping and some other tweaks, is more or less the same game that Falcom originally released for that platform back in 2003. What this means is that the PS2’s 3D character models are gone in favor of the original sprites, and there’s neither ugly CG FMVs nor substandard voice acting (or any voice acting, for that matter). What few out-of-engine cutscenes exist are done in a 2D style reminiscent of those in other Ys games from that time. Despite some jaggies and blurriness on the 2D art assets—artifacts of this game’s age, if nothing else—this PC version is probably the optimal way to play Ys VI in the year 2022.
As for the game itself, it turned out that my thirteen year-old review was still largely on-point, though I found myself having less patience for the amount of backtracking and grinding I had to do, to say nothing of the ridiculousness of the dash jump controls. The dash jump is a special move that can be used to traverse distances that are a bit too far for a regular jump. To pull one off requires doing a dash attack, which is not an easy thing to do in the first place, while jumping. Given that this was a replay where I didn’t feel like going for any sort of total completion, I gave up trying to reach certain treasure chests after awhile. I still went around and took on the optional bosses, though, which resulted in gear that helped me out a good deal in the endgame.
In comparison with Memories of Celceta, the Ys game I had played prior to this one, it’s evident that the series has come a long way. Celceta isn’t as grindy, sports better map and dungeon designs, and had a bit more variety in general. It’s also about 33% longer than Ys VI, yet with less of a reliance on backtracking and grinding, doesn’t feel as padded out. However, both games share that exhilarating fast-paced sword-swinging gameplay that is a hallmark of the Ys series. Despite their differences, some of which are rather significant, both games fit comfortably within the Ys canon.
There is at least one other replay I want to do this year, the aforementioned Phantom Brave. On my first playthrough of that isometric strategy RPG, I came away loving everything but the gameplay, which is done in a “tile free” style that I found to be fussy more than anything else. As I (successfully) did with Final Fantasy VIII many years ago, I want to give Phantom Brave another chance; the main question is when. As for Ys, I have all three of the latest numbered entries to play next, starting with Ys Seven. Hopefully I can get through both that and Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana before the end of the year. I won’t be done with Adol Christin for awhile yet.
Until this past Sunday, when the credits rolled on Ys: Memories of Celceta, I hadn’t beaten an Ys game since 2013. Even though I love the series, they had been starting to pile up, but so many other games got in the way. A reimagining of Ys IV, Celceta is a fairly standard entry, which is by no means a bad thing. There are a handful of party members to manage, which isn’t typical of many Ys games, along with a sprawling forested overworld, decently-sized dungeons, sidequests, crafting, and more. Weapon reinforcement felt extraneous, especially given the pace at which new gear would be introduced, and a certain dungeon sported some annoying design quirks, but otherwise, this was another engaging adventure with heartthrob explorer Adol Christin. Most importantly, I was able to get through the main story and most of the side stuff in thirty and a half hours. This is two and a half hours more than the average Main+Extra time on HowLongToBeat. I tend to go over these averages by about 10%, so my own beat time was about the length I had expected.
Length is one area in which Ys games excel. The most recent game in the series, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, is long by series standards, but even that has an average beat time of 41 hours. Compared to some of the other JRPGs I’ve beaten in recent years, this is positively breezy. Back in January, I finally wrapped up Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past with a total logged time of 96:16. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch was less of a slog, but still took me just over 72 hours to finish. With some series, such as Pokemon or Disgaea, I come into those games expecting to spend a minimum of fifty hours with them. For mainline Personas, I plan for at least a hundred hours.
As much as I enjoy these series, I do wish that their individual installments were shorter on average, particularly given the size of my backlog. Ys’ stories never feel rushed, have appropriate amounts of tone-setting flavor baked in, and don’t overstay their welcome. Sure, some JRPGs, like the aforementioned Dragon Quest VII, feel bloated in terms of storytelling and lore, but even those with tighter pacing often end up being long. How is it that Ys can pull off a similar experience with less gameplay time?
For starters, Ys-style combat and movement feels snappier than those in other action RPGs, such as the Tales and Kingdom Hearts series. This isn’t unique to action RPGs, either; the turn-based Bravely Default features quick, breezy battles. Ys games also tend to have no more towns than you can count on one hand, which cuts down on NPC chatter. Compare this to Dragon Quest VII, which not only has a ton of towns, but most of these locales change in significant ways depending on the time period you visit them in. There’s also the matter of grinding, which, to be honest, is a non-issue with the main storylines of most JRPGs, but does rear its ugly head every once in awhile. In short, to get a JRPG down to Ys length, a good balance between brevity and design seems to be ideal.
When I looked at some more of last year’s big JRPG releases on HowLongToBeat, it was heartening to see that Monstrum Nox wasn’t alone in terms of reasonable length. Final Fantasy VII Remake‘s Main+Extras time is 42 hours and Disgaea 6‘s is, remarkably, 46.5. Even Tales of Arise has a Main+Extras time that is less than 60 hours, which seems remarkable for a Talesgame. Perhaps JRPG developers are finally moving away from the idea, prevalent since at least the PS2 era, that longer equals better. Perhaps they are remembering that the best JRPGs don’t have to be the longest.
I certainly hope so. There are a number of potentially very long JRPGs still sitting in my backlog, some of which are so intimidating in terms of length that I keep putting them off. On the other hand, there’s also more Ys games. The plan is to get through most, if not all, of those Yses by the end of this year, interspersing them with other JRPGs of a reasonable length. As for the longer ones, I’ll continue to chip away at that pile whenever the mood strikes me.
Thanks to the long development time of Mary Sue’s Character Casino, I didn’t beat as many games as I usually do. Meanwhile, my backlog has grown in leaps and bounds. As part of this blog’s revival, the backlog updates will return; expect the 2022 edition in about a week. For now, though, it’s time to look back on my favorite games in 2021.
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.
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.
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