SwitchRPG Awards 2021 – Evan’s Picks
As we are doing things somewhat differently this year, I found myself free of constraints regarding how games should be categorized. What do people want to know about when it comes to RPGs? Do they care for dungeon design, narrative, or gameplay, and if so, how should I illustrate my perspective on these particular elements? In creating a list of nominations for this year, I needed to consider all the games I had played, but I understand that my limited scope and selection of content cannot possibly represent the full spectrum of what the Switch has to offer this year. I can only highlight some of my favorite titles and hope that my recommendations strike a chord with you during this holiday season, or as we move into next year. However, I’ve added one extra detail to my listings: each selection has won a specific category from my personal perspective.
Honorable Mention- Weirdest RPG: Poison Control
In a slobber-knocker of a year for RPG releases, there were plenty of traditional, turn-based titles, iterative sequels of famed Action RPGs, a few mediocre KEMCO titles, and a number of indie offerings. But Poison Control sets itself apart from all its contemporaries with its unique gameplay hook and setting. Ever wanted to play a mission-based, third-person shooter dungeon crawling RPG about purifying the toxic puddles of malice born from the instabilities of human souls settled in hell? Yeah, Poison Control lets you do that. It also doesn’t overstay its welcome, telling a neat narrative about forming bonds and offering a varied set of challenges within the thirty hour limit. If you want something a bit different that boasts a ton of style, Poison Control is worth a look- though it doesn’t make its way onto my top five list.
5) Best Roguelike: Metallic Child
Every year, roguelikes new and old challenge us with procedural runs, punishing enemy encounters, and the endless collection of meta-currencies. With such a hefty time investment involved learning new mechanics, cycles, and the like, it can be hard to decide which roguelike should be our next one. This year is no exception, to the point where I had to make a separate category just to champion more than one release. But if you’re a fan of Mega Man, roguelite progression, and high-octane aesthetics, you owe it to yourself to give Metallic Child a try. The throbbing soundtrack, solid combat mechanics, and adorable character designs featured in this 3D science fiction romp are just good, solid fun, and the variable difficulties mean that anyone can play and enjoy the game for what it is or push themselves to the limit with higher difficulty and a variety of extra-tough challenges. Rona is love, Rona is life.
4) Most Accessible Action RPG: Ys IX: Monstrum Nox
There’s no arguing that Monster Hunter Rise has left its dinosaur-sized footprint on the Nintendo Switch, but let’s face it- it’s not the easiest series to get into. A gear-grind, boss battle action RPG with more mechanics than you can wag a palamute tail at, it doesn’t progress in the usual format, and that just makes it stand out more. If you’re looking for something that offers a more familiar formula, the ninth installment in the Ys series is a great action RPG with plenty to love. Dungeons, a colorful cast of characters, and exploration mechanics that allow you to explore an ever-expanding world on every axis, this game gives hints at a much larger universe, inviting you to continue your adventure into other Ys titles.
3) Best Written RPG: Griftlands
This was a tough pick to decide upon, as there were more than a few contenders this year boasting great narratives. In terms of world-building, character motivations, and a branching narrative, Griftlands disguises its roguelite foundation in a lush, complicated world, offering plenty of sticky situations and three playable characters with complex goals. There’s a whole world waiting within, but you only get a glimpse from each character’s perspective. There are factions with their own objectives- some that align with your own and others that don’t – and a variety of optional scenarios in which you can forge new allegiances or tear down the status quo. One play through a single campaign will have you asking yourself what choices could have altered the outcome, which allies could have helped you attain victory, and what failures could have been avoided. It’s daunting, but beautifully-colored, and it still only feels like a corner of a much vaster universe that demands exploration.
2) Best Turn-Based RPG: Black Book
Look, I love deck-building games, okay? I love them. And if one of those deck-building games just happens to be one of the most unique and culturally expressive turn-based titles I’ve played all year, it definitely deserves mention. Black Book doesn’t get perfect marks for its localization, which has more than a few voice acting inconsistencies here and there and doesn’t always stick the landing for its intent, but the extremely customizable gameplay, which utilizes an ever expanding collection of cards in order to take on demon foes of Russian folklore origin.
The numerous and weighty choices one can make throughout its campaign will lead to one of five endings, many of which tally the sum of your good and evil deeds throughout your playthrough. The soundtrack pulses with an ancient, primal energy that further heightens the otherworldly nature of its central narrative, amounting in an impressive and emotional experience that is unlike anything you’ve ever played before. This is a great game that gave me more than I ever expected at first glance, but it doesn’t quite take the top spot. Trust me, though, it was tough to decide between these two.
1) Game of the Year: Shin Megami Tensei V
This year was always about Shin Megami Tensei, you just never realized it. From the HD Remaster release of Nocturne in the early summer to this game’s November launch, and all the apocalyptic doom and oppression featured across the global landscape we saw in between, it has felt somewhat like the end times in 2021. The game similarly features systems that make exploration and combat high risk, high reward scenarios, so that you can feel on the precipice of success or ruination at all times. Coupled with excellent character and monster designs and an absolutely stellar soundtrack, Atlus provides a gameplay experience that delivers on all fronts, despite its narrative feeling slight.
There are still plenty of demons to fuse, quests to complete, and desecrated cityscapes to plunder, and the new gameplay mechanics introduce both veterans and newcomers to new forms of tactics not seen elsewhere in other RPG series, let alone previous SMT installments. If you’re looking for this year’s most dangerous scavenger hunt whose reward is godhood, you can’t go wrong with Shin Megami Tensei V.