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Gamer Escape's Top 5 Reviewed Games of 2021

31 Dec 2021

Well, it’s that time of year again! It’s officially New Years Eve, with a brand new year approaching on the horizon. 2021 continued to be a…rather wild ride in many ways. But it’s the time to look back on the most important thing of this past year: what happened at Gamer Escape!

The biggest change, of course, was the complete refresh of our site. A more modern look, new options for your browsing experience, and the introduction of Gamer Escape Plus+ are amongst the new things we launched, and we are continuing to tweak things to make the experience even better.

Here in my corner of the Gamer Escape empire…there weren’t any major shifts in the paradigm this year. But that’s OK, not everything needs a massive change-up every year! We’ve continued on our mission to provide fair, detailed reviews of upcoming games to inform and entertain (at least, when we aren’t busy pouring all of our time into Endwalker).

Now, though, on this final day of 2021, we continue tradition. The GE team has looked back at every game we reviewed this year, deliberated, voted, threw hands a few times, and from the rubble has emerged our top five of the year. The five we believe everyone in our community should experience at least once.

As we have in the past, we have pulled in the original reviewer of each winning game (mostly) to give their final thoughts of the year. We here at GE would like to thank everyone for being a part of the Gamer Escape community, and we look forward to what 2022 will bring us! And so, without any further ado, we present to you, dear Gamer Escape readers…

Gamer Escape’s Top 5 Games of 2021!

5: Lost Judgment

Reviewed by: Aaron Botts
Release Date: September 24th, 2021
Systems: PS5, PS4, XSX|S, XB1
Reviewed Version: PS5
Gamer Escape Score: 9/10

Yakuza games mean different things to different people, but many fans (myself included) watched from the sidelines as the drama between RGG Studios and Johnny’s unfolded. You don’t have to look far to trip over reports and stories surrounding it, and many were concerned with how that might affect the outcome of Lost Judgment. Factor in a protagonist and a core gameplay change in the main series, and it’s not a stretch to say that expectations surrounding this were higher than you would expect for a spinoff series game.

Behind the scenes drama aside, Lost Judgment simultaneously improves on its predecessor and sticks the landing. Given the apparent plan to offshoot classic Yakuza gameplay to Yagami’s exploits, the combat and fighting styles here definitely fit the bill. Snake style is a wonderful addition to the gameplay, combat in general is a definite improvement, and much of the fat that was present in the original game is trimmed down or replaced with something even slightly better. When I realized how much they scaled back the number of tailing segments here, breathing a sigh of relief feels like a bit of an undersell.

School Stories are a great addition to the usual dearth of side activities you’ll be doing in Kamurocho and Ijincho (including Master System games), and the usual value proposition for this franchise is upheld here. There are definitely places where the gameplay lags and there’s something to be said about certain gameplay flow decisions, but it’s still a compelling package overall. 

The real star of the show here is the murder mystery presented within, and it’s a doozy. Judgment games tend to be more grounded affairs, so the fact that RGG Studios went in the direction of mixing a murder mystery with a bullying problem at a private high school is an interesting writing decision. While it starts off simple and escalates to the tangled web of conspiracy fans have come to expect, it does so by diverting away from the usual power struggles and instead goes in a more introspective direction. That introspection leans into what justice means to different people, and watching that unfold is nothing short of riveting because of how deeply these characters believe in their own brand of justice. RGG’s writing team and voice cast really got to flex their muscles here, and it’s all there on screen to enjoy. The end of this game had me glued to my seat, and I loved every minute of it.

If you own a next gen console, you owe it to yourself to pick this game up. With the original game also gracing PS5s and Xbox Series consoles, you can now enjoy two grounded stories in the Yakuza universe without the baggage from the main games. They’re just that damned good. 

4: NieR: Replicant ver. 1.22474487139…

Reviewed by: Eliot Lefebvre
Release Date: April 23rd, 2021
Systems: PS4, XB1, PC
Reviewed Version: PS4
Gamer Escape Score: 8/10

End of Year Reflection provided by Ryan Miller

2017’s NieR: Automata was many folks’ first entry into the NieR series, and its critical success made a resurrection of the original game a dream amongst new fans. And with this updated release of the Japan-exclusive counterpart to the original entry, NieR Gestalt, Square Enix knocked it out of the park.

A shining feat in visual storytelling and intuitive gameplay, NieR: Replicant put my heart together only to break it multiple times over its many storylines. It definitely feels a bit… quaint at times (this is a game from the last decade after all) with a litany of questionable design choices, but that charm is what makes it so great in the first place.

A reworked combat system overseen by Platinum Games’ Takahisa Taura, fully-voiced dialogue, and remastered graphics are just a few of the improvements that bring this cult classic to a new generation. It’s a dystopian affair wrapped in layers of love, grief, and warfare that’ll leave you sobbing in your chair as the credits roll.

3: Monster Hunter Rise

Reviewed by: Grant Dotter
Release Date: March 26th, 2021
Systems: Switch
Reviewed Version: Switch
Gamer Escape Score: 10/10

When I heard of Monster Hunter Rise‘s announcement, I was really excited. The franchise had been on an upward trend since Monster Hunter 4 and World, and I was thrilled for the privilege of reviewing it.

Rise exceeded all my expectations and built upon and improved almost every aspect of World. I was impressed at how good the developers managed to get the game to look on Switch , too. While Rise ended up being somewhat lighter on post-game content than World, it offered some wild new hunting experiences like the Rampage quests.

I thusly stand by everything I said even now, and I eagerly await the upcoming PC release and expansion.

2: Resident Evil Village

Reviewed by: Andrew Copeland
Release Date: May 7th, 2021
Systems: PS5, PS4, XSX|S, XB1, PC, Stadia
Reviewed Version: PS5
Gamer Escape Score: 9/10

Back in 2019, Resident Evil 2 was crowned number one for our top games of the year, so is it really surprising that Resident Evil Village makes this year’s list?

Village took the creepy first-person perspective that began in Resident Evil 7 and blended it beautifully with the faster paced, action focused style of Resident Evil 4 to create what I would simply call a fun game.

Of course, it’s not all action, as Village contains what many found to be one of the creepiest, most tense scenes we’ve seen in the series yet. This is a game that, while bringing in more action elements, still delivered on the horror aspects that the series is known for – so much so that we even had Megan “Rook” Byrd attempt to try her hands at the game simply to feed on the “step on me” energy provided by one of the games protagonists, Lady Dimitrescu. The game also drops some interesting series lore for longtime fans which ultimately made this a solid release during the series 25th anniversary this past year.

1: Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker

Reviewed by: Gamer Escape Podcast Team
Release Date: December 7th, 2021
Systems: PS5, PS4, PC
Reviewed Version: PC
Gamer Escape Score: 9/10

End of Year Reflection provided by Andrew Copeland

What was once Square Enix’s biggest failure continues to be one of its biggest successes as the team behind Final Fantasy XIV delivers another expansion full of content woven into a narrative that is sure to tug on the emotions of any player that experiences it.

The new Sage and Reaper jobs offer a fun variety of actions to play around with, and adjustments to existing jobs feel incredibly solid, having built off of the changes the team made with Shadowbringers.

The soundtrack for this expansion, as all others, is another fantastic example of the exemplary work that Masayoshi Soken and his team do. The vocal tracks created for Endwalker do a wonderful job of seamlessly blending into the narrative they represent, and the use of previous tracks also help to provide a new layer of understanding to the Hydaelyn and Zodiark saga that Endwalker concludes.