2020

I have to be honest: I kept putting off writing my 2020 wrap-up post. As early as late November I thought about collecting my thoughts on last year’s games. It’s not that I didn’t want to write about all of the wonderful games I played in 2020. I love writing about video games more than almost anything. But 2020 was a weird year, as unsurprising as that may be for me to say. Though the year was filled with excellent and exciting games and gaming moments, the many global and national challenges facing most of us affected me, too, and impacted my gaming experiences and work more than I ever wanted to admit.

If I think about 2020 purely in gaming terms, what an amazing year. Although critical reception for it was tepid, I loved the Resident Evil 3 remake. It wasn’t quite as expansive as the remake for the second game, but I think both remakes were excellent renditions of their parent games. Capcom’s RE Engine produced beautiful graphics, I loved navigating the broken streets of Raccoon City once again, and I was ecstatic to get more time with Jill Valentine, my favorite Resident Evil character.

A new Animal Crossing game is always a welcome addition to any year, and New Horizons was released at perhaps the most welcoming time in history for any game. Everyone seemed to be playing it – Animal Crossing fans, celebrities, politicians, people who have never played a single AC game, and seemingly everyone on every social media platform. It made me happy to see the series get such love, especially since this was easily the entry with the most significant changes in both gameplay and presentation. With every single new AC game, I lamented the lack of new, exciting features. With older titles, Nintendo would add maybe one major new gimmick and a handful of minor tweaks, but I was always left wondering when a true, full sequel would come out. While New Horizons does retain some of the series’ core mechanics, it adds and expands on so many cool features, like crafting, travel, and multiplayer (even if it’s still imperfect). I had so much fun with New Horizons, and even when I sometimes feel sad for “abandoning” it, I still ended up putting over 300 hours into it. A point that I’ve heard repeatedly debated in conversations about the best games of the year is whether or not New Horizons would have been so popular or well-received if it weren’t for the global pandemic. I suppose the degree to which it would have been popular is debatable, but every mainline AC game has been popular without a mandatory quarantine to boost their prestige. Plus, I think people entertaining that idea are conveniently forgetting both the fact that a great many of us AC fans have been waiting years for this game and the persistent popularity of the Nintendo Switch means that the potential audience for this game was huge, regardless. The fact that many people were looking for a distraction from the pandemic may have notably nudged up hype for this game, but it’s a great game in its own right and surely would have found more success than its already-successful predecessors.

One of the things that made 2017 such a magical year in gaming for me was Persona 5, my long-anticipated introduction to the Persona series, which made 2020’s Persona 5 Royal an absolute day one purchase for me. I really wanted the Phantom Thieves special edition, and after finding it was sold out everywhere I was overjoyed to snag a pre-order from Best Buy. The problem? The release date was right when many non-essential stores went into lockdown from the pandemic. Not the most serious problem anyone’s had in these times, but I was worried the in-store pickup (the only option for pre-order) would be delayed or even canceled. Luckily it was not, and it was my first experience with a staple of pandemic consumer life: curbside pickup. Best Buy sent me an email instructing me to park in front of the store and call the customer service desk (later to become an automated process), and once they verified my order number, someone came outside and dropped the game in my backseat. It seemed like such a novel and bizarre process at that point in time, but I was excited to get home and unbox my new treasure. As with the base game, I absolutely loved my time with Royal, and got the platinum trophy for this entry, too.

Speaking of platinum trophies, I’ve been considering replaying Final Fantasy VII Remake to get the platinum trophy for that game, too, because I was so enamored with it but I feel like I could have spent more time with those characters. I was worried that it would slip from many critics’ minds when it came time for end-of-year award consideration, but it seems to have won a fair number of awards from various outlets. The game is beautiful, the music is so nostalgic and magical, and I really can’t wait to see what they do with the next installment, especially after that provocative ending.

I wasn’t quite as smitten with The Last of Us Part II, but part of that might have been the deafening discourse surrounding the game and its release. It seemed simultaneously the best game ever released and the most offensive artifact to soil consoles, and this was before it was even in most people’s hands. People seemed desperate to share their takes on social media, falling over themselves to take sides or point out some new observation. I specifically avoid hype for most games I play because I don’t want my experiences to be tainted by expectations shaded by the opinion of others, but in this case the hype was virtually unavoidable. I had a pre-order and had, once upon a time, been excited for the game, but I couldn’t get the ongoing conversations about the game out of my head as I played it. I got about fifteen hours in and just didn’t feel like finishing, so I quit. I’ve recently had the itch to go back to it, though, in part because I hate leaving games unfinished, so I installed it on my PS5 and will be starting it back up soon.

In almost an exact opposite situation, I had very little hype for Ghost of Tsushima and it ended up being one of my favorite games of the year, easily. The E3 2018 trailer looked beautiful, but the combat appeared to be in the vein of the Souls games, which didn’t seem up my alley. Tsushima was always on the fringes of my radar, and with little else to play mid-summer, I decided I’d give it a shot. If I didn’t like the combat, at least it had what looked like a beautiful open world I could explore. As it turns out, I really loved the combat. It allows for so many different approaches to battles, and I appreciated that switching stances wasn’t an absolute must to defeat most enemies. I also loved the beautiful open world. And the characters. And the acting and exploration and foxes and… well, you get the point.

I also had a great time with Star Wars Squadrons, which was a simple yet thrilling flight sim, and despite being a sloppy, buggy mess, I also had fun with Cyberpunk 2077.  I very recently wrote about my love of Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Phasmophobia, as well as my mostly-positive adventures in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and I also had a warm and tingly stroll down memory lane with Astro’s Playroom. Paper Mario: The Origami King was a humorous, adorable trip, and The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope was sufficiently spooky. I also used my quarantine months to catch up on some non-2020 games like Days Gone, Gris, I am Setsuna, Luigi’s Mansion 3 and Yakuza 0, and of course I wrote maybe too much about my giddiness over the new consoles. While I wrote specifically about the PlayStation 5, I did also manage to get an Xbox Series X for myself for Xmas. I set it up and… well… that’s about it for now, but I was excited to unbox it and I can’t wait for games like the next Perfect Dark and that Indiana Jones games that was announced today.

So, well, I guess I did end up revisiting games I’ve played this year. But before I started actually writing, the only thing I could think about was the general, difficult-to-describe affect the pandemic has had on me. The few years leading up to 2019 were incredibly hard for me, in terms of my mental health. I had gotten to some very dark places. In early 2019, I took steps to navigate myself out of those dark places, and by the end of the year I began to feel like I had regained control of my life. Then, well, you know. 2020. Many people have had a much worse 2020 than I have, no doubt. But it was something of a precarious year for me. I remained determined to maintain my mental health. I got into a solid workout routine, I walked my cat every day when it was warm, I kept a daily journal, and I did a fair job of transitioning to online teaching, if I do say so myself. The problem was that I felt like my mental and emotional energy had a limit. I could dedicate only so much to staying healthy, and teaching, and participating in hobbies, and parsing all of the negativity that came with the pandemic and the historically toxic presidential election, that anything above and beyond that felt… impossible? Maybe that seems dramatic, but I don’t feel like I had much time post-recovery to enjoy decent mental health before I was expected to write my dissertation, maintain a healthy routine, become an online teacher, and just deal with the overwhelming, flaming flood that was 2020.

So my dissertation went by the wayside. And it felt okay at first. The general consensus about the pandemic’s effect on workflow seemed to be that it was normal and that everyone should give themselves a break. And I did. For a while. I still am, I suppose. But now that it’s been a year and I’ve made almost no progress, the self-doubt and reality of having to secure more funding or work to hopefully try and finish this thing in 2021 is inescapable. Institutions and professionals urged us to be kind and give ourselves more time, but in reality the expectations and deadlines never really changed. And because my dissertation is on games, looking back and thinking of my experience with gaming in 2020 was… complicated. I’ve played so many great games, and I’m excited for the future of gaming, but my place as a gaming scholar always feels like it’s on tremulous ground. I have moments where the field of games studies feels exclusive and some of the most notable names seem out of touch or, frankly, full of shit. Dr. Emma Vossen, a gaming scholar I admire, recently tweeted that she was publishing her final games studies article in academia, and was leaving ten years of work in the field behind her. Why? Because the field is so filled with scholars who don’t seem to understand games and gaming culture. They are academics first, and many of them seem to have gotten into the field because they saw an emergent trend that held lots of publishing potential. Dr. Vossen and others have expressed the notion that some of the best work on games and gaming culture has been done outside of academia, and I agree. But where does that leave me? I have no idea, to be honest. Confused? Angry? Do I push on, hoping to carve a niche for myself and change the culture? Or do I get out and try and get into a seemingly equally exclusive game coverage industry?

Sorry for the rant. For how terrible 2020 was in almost every other regard, it was a great year for gaming. My future in my field of choice may be murky, but I am still in love with video games, and there are some exciting titles coming out this year and in the near-ish future. Persona 5 Strikers, Resident Evil Village, Gotham Knights, Mass Effect Legendary Edition, Breath of the Wild 2, Horizon Forbidden West, and who knows what else is to come. What will the Switch Pro be like? When is the PS5’s next-gen virtual reality headset coming? Wherever life takes me this year, at least I’ll have some amazing games to play along the way.

Thievie Wonders: My New Phantom Thieves Mask Collection

I am a little over 200 hours into Persona 5 Royal at the moment and I’ve detailed my love of the core game and the series in previous posts. I have yet to play the new post-original-endgame content yet, so maybe I’ll cover that in the future, but I just made a purchase that is incredibly timely and relevant. As those very astute readers may have guessed by looking at the title of this blog or the featured picture, I recently bought replicas of every Phantom Thief mask (except Morgana, because his mask is, uh… kinda his face) and I am so excited about it that I wanted to share.

Remember Erin, my tattoo artist? She is in the process of moving and doesn’t have space for these masks so she wanted “[her] babies going somewhere they will be APPRECIATED.” Her words, not mine, but she is 100% correct. I appreciate them so, so much. She originally purchased them from an artist who makes movie and video game prop replicas, DetravoidConcept. So today I woke up, wiped them down with a diaper (not really, ew, gross), and took a bunch of pictures that I’d like to share, along with some thoughts on the characters that they are worn by. Let me just note that I am close to the furthest thing from a photographer, but I tried my best, okay? *nervously sweating emoji*

Joker – Protagonist: “I’ve leveled up.”

Joker doesn’t have many memorable quotes because, well, he’s mostly a silent protagonist. This, combined with the ability for the player to select many of his dialogue choices, makes him a mostly blank canvas for the player to project themselves onto. Which means, Joker is me. So I think he’s a pretty cool guy. Sometimes. Usually. Maybe. On good days.

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Panther – Ann Takamaki: “A beautiful rose has thorns!”

Oh, Ann. So beautiful. So whippy. Ann looks like a bubbly, preppy, popular girl cliché, but it’s not long before you realize that she is an outcast much like you and the many friends you will meet on your journey. Ann is very pretty, yes, but I think it’s the mix of tenacity and hope that she exudes that I like most. A beautiful rose has thorns, indeed. I like making her my hard hitting magic user, because there’s something about her calling forth a shadow and absolutely incinerating enemies in torrential flames that just gets me every time.

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Skull – Ryuji Sakamoto: “For real!?”

Ryuji is the comic relief, yes, so he’s always good for a laugh – at him or with him. He’s hotheaded and a little light in the brains department, so when he attempts to spar with someone like Morgana or Ann, hilarity ensues every time. But you know what? He’s also always in your corner. Always. And sometimes you want nothing more than a hotheaded numbskull of a friend to have your back. That’s Ryuji. Cue sound clip: “What did you say!?”

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Fox – Yusuke Kitagawa: “I do not paint for the sake of others’ comprehension.”

Okay, so I know I painted Ryuji out to be the oafish comic relief, but Yusuke is also a bit daft. I suppose his dullness is more due to social ineptitude, because he seems to be a stellar student, but he sure is dense at times. I was not the biggest Yusuke fan, at first. Can you blame me? Our introduction to him is his stalking of Ann, and he is generally a vain, oblivious tool… for a while. He learns and reflects a lot over the course of the story, though, and even if he’s maybe not the best friend you could ask for by the end, at least he’s always good for a funny, all-too-serious comment about painting Ann in the nude.

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Queen – Makoto Niijima: “Fists of justice!”

I had to go with that quote from Queen because I get it stuck in my head all the damn time. I’ll be walking to the kitchen and pretend like I’m going to punch my refrigerator end-over-end and faux scream that quote. I’ll be playing with Bella, my cat, and yell “fists of justice!” as I slow-motion punch her in the stomach (and she grabs my hand with her claws and punishes me for my foolishness). It’s such a well delivered line, but I love that it comes from the typically prim and proper Ms. Student Body President. In my second playthrough, after seeing Makoto’s full story and getting to know her character beyond her initial pushy, aggressive profiling of us, I found her shadow awakening to be one of the most emotionally resonant. If anyone needed to suddenly sprout spiked shoulder pads and a badass, other-worldly motorcycle, it was Makoto Niijima.

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Oracle – Futaba Sakura: “Welp, ain’t no time like the present! Come on, let’s go!”

Oh, Futaba. Futaba, Futaba, Futaba. She has to be one of my favorite characters in all of gaming at this point. I was already with Ann by the time I got to Futaba in my first playthrough, but as soon as she started slinging zingers at Ryuji, or Inari, or anyone else who annoyed her, I’d decided to romance her in my second playthrough. It felt too weird for me, personally, so I don’t think I have that kind of affection for her, but her story is so tragic and her personality is so unique and goofy that I can’t help but feel some kind of intense love for her. This playthrough of Persona 5 Royal is my fourth time playing through the core P5 story, and I straight up cried again when I was doing her palace and the story that ensues. I would die for Futaba, man.

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Noir – Haru Okumura: “If I act with resolve and believe in my actions, I know I’ll be able to achieve anything.”

Haru is another character that took a while to grow on me, which I know is a sin to some, since she appears to be a huge fan favorite. She is adorably inept when you first come across her in the Metaverse, which was certainly endearing, but growing up in extreme privilege has crippled her in so many ways that it takes a while for her break through all of the shackles that bind her, emotionally, psychologically, socially… but she does, and she evolves into a strong, capable, compassionate businesswoman. And yet she retains her adorable voice and her elegant style… like a true Phantom Thief.

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Crow – Goro Akechi: “[some dumb, faux-humble thing]”

Man, fuck that guy.

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Violet – Kasumi Yoshizawa: “I love you, Joey-senpai!”

Okay, so that quote is a joke because I have yet to reach the new story content so I don’t have any fun quotes from her memorized at this point. I have interacted with her throughout the core story, though, so I already feel very good about my choice to romance her in this playthrough (though I have yet to get to that point, sad face). In her very first scene, which is surprisingly early in the game, she makes a graceful and impressive entrance, and then proceeds to gracefully impress her foot up some enemy ass. At one point early in the story, Morgana says that the Phantom Thieves are all about style, and Kasumi fits right in in that regard. I love her red, bouncy hair, I love how skilled she is, and I love that, like the rest of us, she is something of an outcast, beaten down by a system that doesn’t appreciate her. I can’t wait to get to know her better.

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And there you have it! I’ll include a few close-ups at the end, here, so you can see how good the detailing and paint jobs are. I should note that these things are very sturdy, too. Fully ready for cosplaying. I have yet to find a place to display them, but you can bet your ass they’ll be somewhere very visible, very soon. I love them. And I love the faces they were designed to cover (except Goro). And I love Persona 5 Royal, so I’m going to go play it now. Bye bye.

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