The Story Arc’s Top Games of 2020

History’s most universally beloved year is over. And has been for a while now, actually. This was supposed to come out quite a while ago, but better late than never. It was a trying time for everyone filled with all sorts of unpleasantries that I doubt you need us reminding you of here. It was everyone’s goal at the Story Arc to try to provide a fun and intellectually stimulating distraction for your readers during our first full year. We sincerely hope we’ve done so. And we hope to keep doing that play celebrating one of the few bright spots of 2020! The first year of a new decade of gaming is soon to be in the books. It’s been an eventful year for the industry: the first console of the Next Generation came out, long-anticipated titles finally released, and many old fan-favorites came back whether that be through sequels or remakes. A lot of games came out and we at the Story Arc spent a ton of our year playing through them. So in no particular order some of us at the Story Arc are going to list some of our favorite games of the year!

Bugsnax (entry by Skeith)

Okay so we hadn’t even planned on talking about this game in this list, but after playing the game for myself earlier this month I couldn’t resist talking about it. I fully expected Bugsnax to be some forgettable piece of shovelware but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Bugsnax is a glorious return to Collect-a-thons like Ape Escape where the collectibles are always within sight but figuring out how to collect it is the real challenge, it just so happens that the collectibles here are the most adorable things on earth: Bugsnax.

I love Bugsnax, the creatures. It’s clear that a lot of thinking went into designing each and every species of them. From the adorable Bungers to the hilarious Bopsicle to the utterly evil Scoopy Banoopies. Hearing each snack say it’s own name like a Pokémon as it walks around and figuring out the unique way to catch them was super engaging in ways I hadn’t expected. The game doesn’t overstay its welcome as well, the total number of Bugsnax is 100, a perfect number as it allows nearly every snack to feel unique with only a few recolors.

The game’s characters were also delightful. They were a joy during the game’s many comedic scenes and were perfectly capable of taking the tone down and giving genuine emotional moments with their significant others. Speaking of which I was very pleasantly surprised with the 2 LGBT couples in Bugsnax. Both couples came off genuine without the typical stereotypical jokes that line most mainstream games.

An article like this probably isn’t the best place to talk about the game, but for now I recommend you buy the game yourself and come to Snacktooth Island and discover it’s Bugsnax.

Ghost of Tsushima (Entry by Scovelme)

Ghost of Tsushima is one of those games that, while it may not be particularly groundbreaking in its genre, focuses on polishing its established mechanics to an insane degree. Everything about this game’s design cements it as one of the most consistently engaging open world games I’ve ever played; its environments are strikingly beautiful, making it a joy to romp through them. The map is rather small, with interesting things to do concentrated so that you never feel like you’re running around a huge empty world (cough, GTA 5). It forgoes mini-maps and waypoints, instead using the wind to point in the direction you’re supposed to go, which I think is genius and sorely needed in open world games. The swordplay is really fun, too – it’s got a steep learning curve, but getting good at it made me delight in combat and hunger for more when it ended.

To make it even better, the aesthetic is wonderful; it’s very clearly inspired by old Samurai flicks, and the dramatic camera angles and animation help bring it to life. The whole game has such a cool spectacle to it, with the rather campy story and dialogue only adding to the feeling. Even the questionable Japanese dub felt pretty endearing, though I can’t say what it’s like for Japanese people playing the game.

All in all, the experience is just fun. It’s a great time, with excellent core gameplay punctuated by indulgent nostalgic spectacle.

Persona 5 Royal (Entry by Sailor)

Continuing the proud Atlus tradition of releasing the same game, twice, with a bit more tacked on the second time, 2020 saw the release of Persona 5 Royal (in the West), an updated re-release of the 2017 (in the West) game Persona 5. I love Persona 5 and Persona in general, so Atlus would not have had to work particularly hard to get me to play this game again, but I’m glad to report that sacrificing another 100 hours of my time was worth it. P5R does not heavily alter the original P5, but it does have some extra scenes, a few new features (like the addition of a grappling hook, which will have players keeping an eye out for hidden areas) some pretty interesting overhauls of the game’s bosses, and several quality of life improvements.

However, as nice as these are, they alone wouldn’t justify picking up and playing through the entire game a second time. I mean they might for me, but not for a normal person. It’s the original content which truly elevates P5R. New Confidants like Kasumi and Maruki, the complete rewriting of Akechi’s Confidant, and the addition of the third semester, which includes an extra month of gameplay, with an entirely new, quite lengthy dungeon, and a fantastic addition to the base game’s story.

The third semester elevates these new Confidants to the level of all time great Persona characters, as well as adding onto the stories of the main cast as well. If you’re willing to stick with it, or don’t mind playing through Persona 5 again anyway, you’ll be rewarded with a story that truly builds upon the base game’s narrative and themes, to deliver a story that’s quite heartfelt and impactful. I very much recommend this game to anyone who enjoyed the original.

The Last Of Us Part II (Entry by Jre Best)

Note: I find it difficult to recommend this game because of the many cases of alleged worker abuse swirling around it. While I stand by the decision to include it as a part of this list since it was one of my favorite games of the year, I do not support the practices that went into making this game and would encourage anyone considering buying it to do so for a used copy as to not support Naughty Dog.

Yes, The Last of Us 2, Naughty Dog’s narrative focused action-horror follow up to its widely beloved predecessor isn’t necessarily hurting for more words be written about it. If you haven’t read Scovelmee’s excellent review of it that’s already on Story Arc, I’d highly recommend you do so, as I agree with most of it. The Last of Us Part 2 is the kind of confidently uncompromising experience I wish we got from more from AAA games. Bold of vision and clear in its goals, The Last of Us Part 2 tells a multi-layered story that, yes, is partly about the futility of revenge but is much more concerned with perspective. Playing on the players shifting allegiance to the two main characters, the entire game aims to subvert expectations. The Last of Us Part II is truly a game I believe will help push our discussion of game narratives forward.

On top of that it’s just an exceedingly fun game to play. The destroyed Seattle Ellie traverses shows off Naughty Dog’s best level design ever. While both the first and second games are about equally linear, The Last of Us Part 2 wider open combat, a wide array of survival tools, and intelligent enemy AI made this one of the most satisfying action stealth games I’ve played in years. A lot of times when I fall in love with something controversial a part of me wonders if I’m just trying to go against the grain for the sake of it. But considering The Last of Us Part 2 is the only 2020 game that I consistently appreciated more every time I thought about it I’ve grown pretty comfortable saying that it’s my game of the year.

Doom Eternal (Entry by Luke)

Doom Eternal is really nothing short of a miracle. Doom 2016, despite all its strengths, was more or less an accident; a game made to revitalize a mostly-forgotten franchise and capitalize on the multiplayer shooter trend that ate the last console generation alive. Doom Eternal, meanwhile, represents complete and utter confidence and skill from Id Software, ramping up everything that made Doom 2016 such a near-masterpiece to begin with and turn it into gold, all while creating its own personality and heart. Doom Eternal, put simply, is sheer perfection in every way.

I last discussed Doom Eternal in our Quarantine List Special [<– link goes here], and my thoughts have stayed relatively the same, but with each replay and casual stroll, I learn more about the game, its mechanics, and every detail integrated for my amusement. From the accuracy in lobbing grenades into a Cacodemon’s mouth to pacify them, to a friendly dance with the infamous Marauder, to an amazing and high-octane climax proving to be the shining force of the game, Doom Eternal is as priceless and raw as a first-person shooter can be.

The game also gets routine updates, such as multiplayer content and the insanely difficult Master Levels, though they’ve been slow to pump those out, no doubt due to a particular illness spreading around. But the core of the DLC, thus far, has been The Ancient Gods, which will truly test your strengths in the dance of Doom Eternal. At the time of my writing this, The Ancient Gods has only had part one of its two-part story, but Ancient Gods has proven to be a harrowing experience with new enemies, level obstacles, and the amazing score by Andrew Hoult, proudly carrying the torch for Mick Gordon after he left the Doom franchise.

In a word, Doom Eternal is a gem. A rewarding and profoundly satisfying game. My game of 2020 for sure, and quite possibly my personal favorite game of all time.

Animal Crossing New Horizons (Entry by Victiny)

There’s little I can mention about Animal Crossing that hasn’t been discussed to death before. Should I go with a dissection of the utopian animal life’s terrifying implications, or the Great Raymond Incident of ’20? No. The chances are you, the reader, have either been actually playing the game in those periods or experienced them vicariously. Rather I would like to bring up what a unifying event AC:NH was for the year of 2020. The reaction can be compared to the Pokemon Go, uh…outbreak of 2016. At that time, everyone was playing Pokemon Go. It was a phenomenon, and pokemon was incredibly relevant again (not that it ever left). Now this new game had what we in the biz call “cinematic parallels”. People had to stay indoors rather than go out in the big world now, And the creatures were contained in the Switch rather than wandering free. The magic was all in this beautiful island you could call your own. And damn it, did I get attached to those guys! So thank you, Animal Crossing, You made the ease into the pandemic even easier.

Plus it’s the only series to have Filbert, which adds at least 2 points to its overall score.

Sakura Wars (2019) [Released in 2020 in the West] (Entry by Skeith)

I love Sakura Wars. I wear that love on my sleeve. If you didn’t expect this to show up on my list of best games of 2020, you must be new here.

Sega’s rival of the classic Sega Saturn franchise was a brilliant return to form. The franchise’s battle gameplay has taken a shift from being a Strategy RPG to having very vanilla hack and slash sections. However don’t let the fact that this change is the first thing everyone brings up about the game fool you. Combat has never been the focus of Sakura Wars. The real draw of the franchise is the visual novel segments and Sakura Wars (2019) delivers wonderfully in that department.

The 3D models of the characters are very expressive and truly bring Tite Kubo’s character designs to life, I think my favorite visual style for the franchise is still the Sakura Wars 2 sprites but these are a close second. The writing and voice acting is equally stellar, creating several scenes that I won’t be forgetting any time soon, especially ones involving my favorite fictional character: Azami Mochizuki.

This game revived my favorite game franchise and created the character who has become a key part of my identity. I would love to talk about it more here, but I have neither the time to do so or anything new to add as I have talked about it in past articles [note to uploader: hyperlink there]. I cannot recommend giving Sakura a try enough, take the jump and fall in love with Sega’s classic franchise.

Spider-Man: Miles Morales (Entry by Sailor)

Spider-Man: Miles Morales is decent.

So why is it my one of my entries for Game of the Year? Well, because I spent most of 2020 playing games that didn’t release in 2020, so I was kind of starved for choice. Nevertheless, in spite of its disappointing runtime, occasional glitchiness, and a narrative that I didn’t like quite as much as its predecessor, I still enjoyed Spider-Man Miles Morales a hell of a lot. As a very big fan of Spider-Man (so much so that I wrote a series of essays about the character before I even had the idea for Story Arc. Yeah. Expect those to show up on this site eventually) it can’t be understated how much I enjoyed playing such a definitive version of Spider-Man in 2018, and gameplay wise everything that made the original game so great is still here, with some added features that provide fun mix-ups to the formula. Plus, how could I not include a game with such exaggerated swagger?

Resident Evil 3 (Entry by Jre Best)

In 2020 I fell in love with the Resident Evil franchise hard. A series grabbing me so immediately is something that has never happened to me before. Resident Evil 4 and the remake of 2 became some of my favorite games. So, naturally, I was thrilled that I had become a fan just in time for the latest game in the series Resident Evil 3 Nemesis.

The game remakes the classic PlayStation 1 game just like the sensational Resident Evil 2 Remake did the year before. If you’re familiar with that game then jumping into this one should be no trouble at all, they practically play the same with only a few small changes. The key difference between the two games is in their structure. While 2 remake kept to the more traditional metroidvania like map design of the original RE games, 3, controversially, is structured more like a linear action game with occasional explorable hubs. The game is so dedicated to its action-first mind set that it even cuts out a few areas from the original game and overall is much shorter and lacking in content when compared to its predecessor.

But frankly it’s hard to care when the game is so much fun to play. These Resident Evil remakes simply have a fantastic game loop. The third-person shooting is some of the most satisfying you’ll see from any game in 2020, combined with the remakes hyper-aggressive and dangerous versions of standard zombies, and a newly added hard to master dodge ability make it some of the best gunplay in the franchise. What exploration there is, is still as satisfying as ever. RE engine continues to impress me with how gorgeous and easy to run these games are. The story is the perfect balance between engaging horror action and silly Resident Evil cheese. And of course our main antagonist Nemesis. While some were disappointed, because of the new structure of the game, Nemesis couldn’t really operate as the ever-present stalker he was in the original; which is very understandable considering how much the original version of Nemesis influenced RE 2 Remakes version of Mr. X. As someone who actually found the Mr. X portions of Resident Evil 2 to be its least compelling segments, I very much enjoyed Nemesis new role as mister set piece. Every time he is chasing you down it feels exhilarating and his multiple boss fights were some of the most fun I had in 2020 and while I will agree with people in that I probably could have used a little more of him, I was still very happy whenever he was on screen.

Resident Evil 3 wasn’t the most universally loved game of the year and maybe I’m just in some Resident Evil honeymoon period. But Resident Evil 3 has pretty much everything in an action game and its short length and abundance of unlocks have me coming back and doing fun challenge runs all throughout the year. Is it as good as the Resident Evil 2 remake? No, you make something that is. But I had a great time with Resident Evil 3 and I think you should pick it up just probably do it on a sale.

Final Fantasy 7 Remake (Entry by Victiny)

It should be noted first that in the latter half of 2020, I binged the original FF7 and FF7R back-to-back, both for the first time. For a period, I woke up, ate, played a Final Fantasy 7, then slept. It was heaven. One of my personal favorite memories during this time was beating Sephiroth and then, without skipping a beat, loading in the download disc for FF7R and starting that very same night. Secluded from the maelstrom of controversy the game had surrounding its story changes, I felt like I was watching a great movie adaptation of the novel I had just put down. I think my experience is not exactly unique, but it is certainly a roundabout and solid way of experiencing the world of FF7 firsthand.

Coming from being a huge Kingdom Hearts fan (I’ve played every game), I had only really known Cloud and his wacky friends though that. Young me thinking “Hey, I like his design”, I decided to watch Advent Children from there. Let me tell you, that movie is nigh incomprehensible without knowing the basics of FF7 first. I loved it. Years went by and FF7R was announced around when I was entering college. I decided to buy it day one, thinking I could just jump in. “It starts from the ground up, what’s the issue?”. My friends, on learning I was dangerously close to installing the game on my PS4, convinced me to play the original first. I love them for that. Without being advised where to start, I would’ve begun the remake akin to jumping into The Avengers: Endgame without watching the cinematic universe first. I wouldn’t have truly appreciated the buildups as a whole, instead consuming the game as a six-inch sub rather than a whole footlong sandwich.

Crash 4: It’s About Time (Entry by Luke)

Crash 4 provided some of the most charming and childlike giddiness of the year. As someone who’s grown up with Crash, it still doesn’t feel real that we got a new, fully-fledged game. After the bastardization the marsupial underwent in lackluster spin-offs and the identity crisis found in the Ubisoft Titans titles, there was a great deal of wonder when — or if — Crash would make a return.

Then Vicarious Visions (may they rest in peace) worked some magic to make that happen with the best-selling N-Sane Trilogy, and while it wasn’t exactly a new and original title, it brought Crash to a newer-gen audience with gorgeous graphics and the gameplay we all loved, and loved to hate. After Crash’s return, Toys for Bob has handcrafted a proper sequel, ignoring the weak (and wasted potential) of Wrath of Cortex and takes place appropriately after Crash 3. The game is overtaken by vibrant colors, expressive and beautiful animations, and a rocking soundtrack.

Being a Crash title, the platforming is the heart and soul, and It’s About Time contains the best and most challenging platforming in the entire series. The sequel streamlines itself to be a bit easier for a casual audience (the unlimited lives system and the mark below Crash’s jumps are welcomed additions), but never loses its identity. Masks change the gameplay in dynamic ways, allowing Crash and Coco to slow time, alter gravity, and make objects appear and disappear through dimensions. Crash 4: It’s About Time has continued to impress me, and as a proud Crash Bandicoot fan like myself, I’m happy to see Crash return in grand and exciting ways, and I await what’s next.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore (Entry by Victiny)

Oh boy, I’ve never talked about this game before. I’ve never mentioned the incredibly lush and frankly “refreshing” graphics, the J Pop and techno inspired soundtrack, the sheer uniqueness of the package. Nope, doesn’t sound like me. I really did avoid this game for years unsure if it was for me or not, and I’m sure many are the same. I get it, looking in it looks like…a game. A very off puttingly bright, “anime”, and trope laden game. But as someone who finally got around to it, I beg of you. Please Give Tokyo Mirage Sessions a Chance!

Yakuza: Like a Dragon (Entry by Skeith)

Sega’s seventh mainline entry into the Yakuza franchise takes an unexpected turn, trading out the 3D Beat ’em Up gameplay of the previous games for a new turn based battle system. For such a drastic gameplay shift, and it being RGG Studio’s first time developing an RPG, the gameplay was much better than you would expect. While random encounters can get repetitive around the late game, the gameplay remained entertaining enough to keep me engaged the whole way through. The job system does a good job of creating variety between different player’s playthroughs, even if we do all use Idol Saeko as our main healer.

Story wise this game shined bright, RGG studios was faced with the drastic task of replacing Kiryu as the series protagonist with newcomer Ichiban. I cannot stress enough that they did wonderfully with that. Ichiban is one of the most loveable protagonists I have seen in a long time. In fact the entire cast was wonderful. The turn based gameplay helped make the cast feel like a team in ways the previous gameplay styled wouldn’t have been able to.

The main plot was also wonderful, one of the most engaging in the Yakuza franchise and I would be just as, if not more satisfied if the series ended here than with Yakuza 6. The English dub cast did a fantastic job, the ending in particular sold me on Kaji Tang’s performance as Ichiban being utter perfection.

Yakuza: Like a Dragon is my game of the year hands down, pick it up and welcome Ichiban.

Project Diva Megamix (Entry by Victiny)

I’ve always had a soft spot for Project Diva. Ever since my Vocaloid phase in high school, the games have stuck with me as devilishly hard rhythm games, ones that have a bonus of dredging up classic songs I had forgotten about in the last few years. Imagine if My Chemical Romance had a rhythm game that was as fun to play as it was tripping on nostalgia at the same time. That’s what PD means to me. Specifically, Megamix really whipped my rhythm game skill into shape. An adaptation of Project Diva Future Tone on PS4 (which in turn is made up of various games in the series, some of which were stuck on Japanese arcade cabinets) this game can get HARD. Like changing tempos, visual rhythm game bullet hell hard. The basic concept remains the same, but with a minor twist. Instead of the traditional circle, triangle, X and square that past games had, a new option is to use the Switch’s native ABXY to denote the notes on screen. That plus the portability is a huge factor in this game’s general approachability.

The game is not without its shortcomings, however. The game only adapts 100+ of the original games 200 songs, not including DLC. This is an issue unique to Megamix. Make no mistake, 100 is still a LOT of content. But when iconic songs such as Ievan Polkka are straight up ripped from the game (one of the original meme songs that projected Miku from obscurity), somethings up. Even still, DLC for the most part remedied this, and I found the low (in comparison) song selection even helps to trim some of the fat from Future Tone. It’s almost as though the devs curated this selection to make it the best possible package with portability in mind.

Confession time, I hadn’t even played Future Tone before picking this up. Future Tone always intimidated me, with its 200+ song library and punishing difficulty, but I found Megamix was the perfect way to approach it. The minor changes helped adjust me to the games speed and complex difficulty, and for that It’s one of my top favorite games of 2020.

Honorable mentions

Maiden and Spell (Entry by Naalune)

A very niche pick, yet my game of the year regardless, Maiden & Spell is a clearly Touhou-inspired versus shoot-em-up with an excellent aesthetic, an adorable story, and gameplay that offers both a great single-player experience that works fantastically as an intro to the shoot-em-up genre, as well as a great fighting game-esque experience (with rollback netcode!)

Doom (the first one) (Entry written by DK)

I didn’t play Thy Flesh Consumed last year but this cover whips. I was in charge of sourcing the images for this article, so my rules.

“Wait, this game is over 20 years old” Yes. I didn’t get any of the big new games this year, and I didn’t get any of the big small games this year. But you know what I did play? The first Doom game, multiple times. Because it’s a perfect video game. The music, in it’s bizarre mix of foreboding MIDI synths and hard, also MIDI, rock, is honestly one of the best soundtracks of all time. The “””simplistic””” graphics are just complex enough to give a real feeling of depth and atmosphere to the game, and the gameplay and level design has been praised so many times that I can’t add anything else onto it. So yeah. Doom is my GOTY, and probably will be until I die.

And there it is: Our top Random Number of games of 2020. Although we would’ve liked to release this a little sooner, it actually works out, as this now happens to be our hundredth article. Quite a fitting way to conclusively put the first full year of Story Arc to bed. Here’s hoping it’s the first of many. As always, be sure to follow us on twitter, as well as check out both our twitch and our podcast! With the next hundred articles, we’re sure to have even more in the works.

Thanks for reading!

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