Well shit, Guardian Acorn’s 4th birthday just passed! I’m still quite in awe that this experiment of mine has lasted this long, and I’m hoping that it continues to last. And now comes the tradition where I take one last chance to talk about the best and the worst games I reviewed this year. Okay yes, I didn’t do one for the 2nd and 3rd years, but there is a reason for that. During the 2nd year, the number one pick would have been Persona 3, but I didn’t want to award it the number 1 spot because of that transphobic AF beach scene. The third year I just didn’t bother with because I was so focused on political writing, and I didn’t even remember it.
GA’s 4th is noteworthy in that a lot of it was spent on political writing, and I intend to keep the focus on gaming from this point on (although I’m not done with politics entirely). Despite this, I have kept a consistent schedule since November of last year, and there is enough that I do have a Top 5. Despite this, over half the list was covered in the first half of the year. That doesn’t really fit into any thematic statement, it’s just kinda interesting. Anyway, just a reminder that this does not count re-posts of my old GameFAQs reviews, since I didn’t write them this year. And for those that want to know the cutoff date, it’s May 5th. So without further delay, here are the best games I’ve reviewed in Guardian Acorn’s 4th year.
#5: Celeste (PC/PS4/XONE/Switch, 2018)
I stated in my review that it is weird to have such strong feelings about a game that I technically only enjoyed 1/3rd of, but given the circumstance, I can’t not include Celeste as my number five pick. Granted, that’s also because Bayonetta just missed the cutoff point, but even then, it’s a tough choice. The sheer fact that there have been points where I genuinely considered going after those C-side stages, and clearing Chapter 9 the legit way is a testament to how captivating this game is. It’s captivating in the sense of immersion and atmosphere of this story, and its captivating in a “JUST ONE MORE TRY AND THEN I’LL GO TO BED” sort of way.
Indie games often get knocked for being pretentious and up their own ass, and I can agree with that in some cases. But when someone starts talking about how indie games will save this industry and show us the way forward in a sea full of interchangeable AAA bullshit, it’s clear that Celeste is the kind of game they are talking about. The core gameplay is solid and impeccably well designed, but it’s beautiful setting, the amazing music, and everything about this game’s presentation that takes Celeste from a fun, indie platformer, to one of the most memorable of its kind.
Celeste’s story doesn’t sound like anything seriously deep or compelling if you summarize it, but it’s something that lends itself to the overall world. I wouldn’t say that any single part of the game is mind blowing, save for the music, but the way everything compliments each other makes this game feel special. The only reason that this game is not higher on the list is, as I’ve said already, most of the game’s content is insanely difficult, but I wouldn’t even say it’s bad. It’s just something that puts it below the other four games on this list.
#4: Dragon Quest III: The Seeds of Salvation (NES/SNES/GBC/Wii/IOS/3DS/PS4/Switch, 1992)
I think what impresses me the most about Dragon Quest III is the sheer scale of it. I don’t know any other NES games that feel as grand in scale as this. Hell even some of the later Dragon Quest games (VI in particular) feel a bit lacking when compared to this. To be fair, I did play one of the remakes, which had enhanced presentation and added content, but the core game is still the same, and I did not get the same feeling from the first two games (although they are still pretty cool in their own right).
I could spend a whole bunch of time talking about how Dragon Quest III built the groundwork for so many future JRPGs, but what’s really noteworthy is how well it still holds up. I’d still love this game even if it were released today and didn’t have historical significance, because it gets everything right. The story is not only entertaining, but I love how you get a feel for the world through its NPCs. It really takes a simple “evil wizard rules the world go kill him” plot and fleshes it out enough to feel impactful. And the way that this game connects to the first two games, absolutely brilliant.
The only issue I have with this game is that there isn’t really a definitive version to recommend over all others. The Super Famicom version has the best presentation no doubt, but the fan translation is buggy as hell. The Gameboy color version has the most content, but the presentation is inferior. You’d think the IOS/3DS/PS4/Switch release would be the go-to port, but it has a fuck ton of typos, and doesn’t feature the GBC content or the Pachi-slot bonus games. But I suppose it doesn’t matter as long as you play it.
#3: Secret Little Haven (PC, 2018)
The most awkward part of these lists has to be deciding how to compare games of completely different genres that attempt completely different things. There were points where I considered having this as both the number 5, and the number 1 entry. I also considered having the blurb just be ‘TRANS RIGHTS BITCHES!!!” but that would have just been to spite the stupid redditors who bitched about my review. I can say for certain that Secret Little Haven is the most unique game in this top 5.
It’s weird even trying to slap a genre sticker on this game. A case could be made to say that it’s a visual novel, an adventure game, or an environmental narrative game. The basic premise is about a closeted trans girl in the late 90s, as she befriends the members of a forum for a magical girl anime. The story is told through reading Alex’s DMs with her friends and posts on the forum, and they all paint a highly immersive and compelling story that leads to Alex confronting her abusive father, and coming to terms with her gender identity.
So, some may ask if I’m biased towards this game because I’m trans, and to that I say, go fuck yourself! No fucking shit I’m going to be biased in favor of one of the few games that represents people like me well! And yes, I’m at least a small bit bitter that anyone would ignore a game like this because they decided they associate trans people with Social Justice Warriors, and are incapable of empathizing with us because of their own prejudice. And to be fair, I can understand at least a small level of aversion. I wasn’t a fan of games like Gone Home, Depression Quest, or Her Story, and I’m convinced those games are only popular because their developers have connections with prominent game journalists. But one would be making a mistake to lump Secret Little Haven in with those games prematurely. And if you did like those games, then you should absolutely check this out!
#2: You and Me and Her: A Love Story (PC, 2020)
I must admit, this game was nowhere near my radar last May. I went into this game with no expectations, and really, that’s the best way to experience this game. I’m really blessed that I got the chance to play this game completely blind, and the best piece of advice I can give is to play it before reading anything else I say about it. In my review of this game, I hinted at thinking that I found this more powerful than Euphoria, which is really saying something since I can’t shut up about that game. With the element of hindsight, I think I still Euphoria is the better game overall, but in terms of the first time “WOW” factor, Totono has it beat.
I’ve made a point to listen to the soundtracks of each of these games as I’m writing this, and right now, several months after I’ve played the game, it still gives me goosebumps, and I’m holding back tears. Part of me is wondering whether or not I should put this at number 1 instead. I guess I will need to at least describe some of this game for those who didn’t take my advice last paragraph. To keep things short, it’s basically Doki Doki Literature Club, but better in every conceivable way. Better story, better visuals, better music. And the game was released in Japan four years earlier, so it has it beat in originality.
And one last thing I need to bring up, why was a masterpiece like this not even considered in any of the various “Game of the Year” awards in 2020? Do you all really expect me to believe that The Last of Us 2 was more deserving than this? And don’t even try to tell me it’s because of it’s Japanese release date when Among Us was in the running. I’m sure we know the real answer; these fuckers didn’t even know this game exists. They didn’t know because they only pay attention to the games they are paid to pay attention to. I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but this just goes to show how meaningless of a concept “Game of the Year” is. But I’m not going to let that ruin my mood. You and Me and Her MUST be experienced. And remember, 52194054.
#1: MOTHER 3 (GBA, 2006)
It was a tough choice between this and Totono, but it was only a tough choice because I didn’t play MOTHER 3 blind. I mean, if I’m choosing between the impact MOTHER 3 had when I first saw it in let’s play form when I was a teenager, then I have to give the edge to MOTHER 3. It was this game that showed me how powerful the medium of gaming could be, and at the time, it took me forever to move on from my obsession with this series. I suppose it’s weird that I didn’t decide to play the game for myself until recently, but I was holding out hope that Nintendo may decide to officially localize this game after years of relentless cock teasing. Surely Terry Crews will accomplish what fans have been trying to do for decades.
As for the game itself, it’s damn near perfect. The one flaw I can think of is that the Magy- okay two flaws, is that they were not a perfect representation of non-binary representation. But even then, they were good for 2006 standards, and the few problematic bits could easily be fixed in an official localization, but that white ship has already sailed. As for MOTHER 3 itself, it’s a genuine classic. It’s filled with so much charm, emotion, and depth that I’d question the taste of anyone who doesn’t like it. I mean, it’s your opinion I guess, but any time they talk about games, I’d just be like “what do you know nerd, you didn’t even like MOTHER 3!!”
The more that one plays this game, the more there is to appreciate. From the sheer emotion of… certain scenes that I will not spoil, to the political subtext that hits especially hard in a late stage capitalistic hellscape. Hell even the battle mechanics are a step up from EarthBound and require a fair bit of strategy. And those combos managed to be addicting even when dealing with emulator lag. It’s rare to find games with as much heart, and with as much care as MOTHER 3, and it’s no wonder why it’s influenced and touched so many.
Anyway, that has been the best games I have reviewed in Guardian Acorn’s Fourth Year, and I’m hoping the selection next year will be at least as good. Anyway I’m currently undecided on if I want to make a Bottom 5 list. I’ll let you know soon enough. Here’s to hoping for a prosperous wonderful future for Guardian Acorn. Anyway, here’s how the rest of the rankings look.
#6: Crash Bandicoot: N, Sane Trilogy (PS4/XOne/Switch.PC)
#7: Nekopara Vol. 4 (PC)
#8: The Mysterious Murasame Castle (NES)
#9: SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated (PS4/XONE/Switch/PC)
#10: 12 is Better than Six (PC/Switch)
#11: Duck Season (PC)
#12: Lightning Warrior Raidy (PC/FMTowns/PC-98)
#13: Futa Fix Dick Dine & Dash (PC)
#14: Rance 5D: The Lonely Girl (PC)
#15: A Kiss for the Petals: Remembering How we Met (PC/IOS)
#16: Demon King Domination (PC)
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