Normally around this time of the year, I put together a list of the ten video games I’m most looking forward to in the following year. After some reflection, though, I’ve decided to stop doing that because, frankly, those lists aren’t exactly timeless. They get outdated so quickly, whether it’s because some of the games in question wound up not coming out or turned out to be bad. Plus, sometimes I struggle finding 10 whole games that I’m super excited for and we never know what the coming year’s full release schedule looks like.
I’d prefer to write something that holds up a lot better; something that can be read years down the line and not feel hilariously outdated. So, I’ve decided to follow the crowd and put together a top five list of my personal favourite games of 2022.
5. Klonoa Phantasy Reverie Series
I had an internal debate whether to put this or Pokémon Legends: Arceus at number five. But while I certainly enjoyed Pokémon Legends for being the long overdue breath of fresh air the franchise needed (consider it an unofficial number six on the list), Klonoa Phantasy Reverie Series holds a lot more personal importance. You need to understand, Klonoa as a series didn’t really exist anymore, not since the financial bomb that was the 2008 Nintendo Wii remake of the first game. As a fan of the series, I had long made peace with it never returning. So when Bandai Namco announced it was remastering both of the original PlayStation 2.5D platformers, believe me when I say I screamed the house down with joy.
I’ll admit, Klonoa Phantasy Reverie Series makes it onto the list mostly thanks to nostalgia. However I still argue that both games hold up incredibly well so many years later. At their core, they are incredibly solid platformers that offer unique level design thanks to the 2.5D perspective and a neat gimmick in Klonoa’s ring letting him grab enemies to use as projectiles or for methods of traversal, which lends itself well to a variety of puzzles and platforming challenges. Not to mention, both games can be surprisingly difficult for even a seasoned player.
For me, though, it’s the story and characters that I remember the most. For as bright and cuddly as its visuals are, Klonoa is a series with its fair share of heartbreak and tragedy. It’s soft enough for little kids to enjoy, but is unafraid to get rather dark in places and touch upon topics that you’ll only truly appreciate as an adult. I personally think the second game blows the first out of the park in terms of its plot and writing, but both titles leave an impact and help elevate Klonoa beyond being just another cartoon animal mascot. Hopefully, these remasters have proven popular enough to encourage Bandai Namco to make entirely new Klonoa games but, even if that doesn’t happen, I’m more than content knowing there are people who picked up Klonoa Phantasy Reverie Series and fell in love with these games like I did.
4. Sonic Frontiers
I am thrilled/relieved to be putting a Sonic the Hedgehog game on this list. While the franchise was making quite the comeback thanks to the live-action movies and IDW comics, it was ironically the games where it just kept floundering. After roughly 10 years of the mainline games mostly being mediocre, underwhelming, or outright awful, I was getting so tired of giving Sega and Sonic Team second chances. Even when Sonic Frontiers finally got a proper reveal and we started seeing gameplay, I was struggling to be optimistic and feared Sonic’s first attempt at the open world formula would be just one more failure to add to the pile.
I won’t pretend it’s flawless (the more traditional Cyber Space levels are decent but they’re definitely the weakest part) and it’s not without its fair share of jank, but Sonic Frontiers is easily the best Sonic game to come out in a very long time. And not even in a ‘it’s not as bad as all the others’ way; it’s genuinely good. Speeding around the Starfall Islands, completing mini platforming challenges and other missions to earn collectibles and unlock more of the map to explore is so moreish and just a lot of fun to do. The biggest surprise, however, was the combat. Sonic may not have the most diverse moveset but I never got tired of enemy encounters thanks to Sonic’s fast and flashy attacks and how each enemy was unique in both design and how you’re meant to beat them. The Super Sonic boss fights are the obvious highlight for being pure spectacles and featuring incredible vocal tracks that I’m still obsessively listening to.
In addition to the melancholic atmosphere of the islands, a chill fishing minigame, a sombre and genuinely touching story, and some of the best character writing the series has had for a very long time (Sega better let Ian Flynn keep writing for the games), it’s no wonder Sonic Frontiers has resonated so well with fans like myself. Obviously not everyone feels the same (plenty people freaking hate this game), but when I see how much of a positive reception it got from both critics and die-hard fans, it’s clear Sega and Sonic Team are onto something, and these experimental risks have paid off. Fingers crossed this momentum carries forward into future games.
3. Kirby and the Forgotten Land
If you think about it, Kirby and the Forgotten Land shares a few similarities with Sonic Frontiers. Both saw their respective mascots break new ground in terms of core gameplay, featured settings that were once home to a long gone civilisation, and ended with a fight against an unholy abomination from beyond the deepest recesses of space. I love both games to death and 100%ed them, but I think I have to put Kirby’s newest adventure over Sonic’s just because its quality is far more consistent throughout.
A proper 3D Kirby game was long overdue (there was meant to be one for the GameCube but that got cancelled) and developer Hal Laboratory knocked this first attempt out of the park. At its core, it’s no different to the classic 2D Kirby games; you’re still running through mostly linear levels, using various Copy abilities to fight enemies and solve puzzles, and grabbing collectibles along the way. But the jump to 3D allowed for new methods of exploration, not to mention making areas more visually interesting to scour through. Kirby’s ability to float through the air was obviously nerfed, but this allowed for proper platforming challenges, and while there aren’t as many Copy abilities compared to past games and smaller movesets for each, they’re all refined and fun to use, especially once you begin upgrading them (which is perhaps the best new addition to the series in a while).
What makes this Kirby game stand out to me, though, is that I actually wanted to 100% it. Kirby games have always had a relatively easy main campaign and then overly difficulty post-game challenges that feel shockingly out of place for such a kid friendly series. I’ve always struggled with those optional challenges and while Kirby and the Forgotten Land retains the high difficulty, they’re far more palatable thanks to the 3D environments, Kirby’s new dodge move, the upgraded abilities, and optional items. All in all, Kirby and the Forgotten Land is easily my favourite Kirby game ever and I cannot wait to see what future 3D entries will offer.
2. AI: The Somnium Files – Nirvana Initiative
Even though I believed its chances of even getting a sequel were slim, my ideal premise for an AI: The Somnium Files 2 would see supporting character Mizuki be promoted to main protagonist, having grown up and become an ABIS detective like her adoptive father. So, you can imagine my delighted surprise when a sequel was not only announced, but it was giving me exactly what I wanted. Okay, maybe not exactly what I wanted since Mizuki was sharing the spotlight with a brand new character – Kuruto Ryuki – but as someone who was already a fan of Kotaro Uchikoshi’s work and fell in love with AI: The Somnium Files and its characters in 2019, the announcement of a sequel was a dream come true.
Nirvana Initiative retains everything I enjoyed about its predecessor. A dark and compelling core mystery, a varied cast of endearing characters, intriguing puzzles, and Ucikoshi’s trademark eclectic writing. As always with his work, this is a game where characters can have deep, philosophical discussions one scene and then take part in a cheesy, choreographed pop song the next. A game that manages to be hilariously bizarre, horrifically tragic, and genuinely sincere all at once, with some excellent use of foreshadowing and so many twists and turns that constantly keep you on your toes.
It’s not perfect; as much as I love the dream-like Somnium sections for their unique puzzles and for providing insight into the characters, some trial and error is still required. I also got completely stuck on a couple of puzzles outside of the Somniums that I wish did a better job at providing hints to help the player along. And while I personally love how off-the-wall the story gets, a couple of its big plot twists are rather contentious and arguably raise more questions than they answer. There are just a lot of little niggles and annoyances that add up over the time and hold the game back from being as good as the first one. None of that dilutes my love for Nirvana Initiative, though. This game frankly shouldn’t exist to begin with, but it does and I’m thankful for that alone. I’m honestly content with Uchikoshi moving on to something completely new after this but I also wouldn’t say no to another sequel down the line.
1. Xenoblade Chronicles 3
Anyone who knows me would’ve already guessed that Xenoblade Chronicles 3 would be my number one game of the year. As a reminder, the first Xenoblade Chronicles is my favourite game of all time and I’ve been a passionate fan of the series ever since. While I have some extra sentimental value for Xenoblade Chronicles 3 considering I got to review it in a professional capacity (meaning I experienced it long before everybody else), I’m confident that even if I hadn’t, it’d be at the top of this list regardless.
It’s easily the best entry in the series from a gameplay standpoint, boasting a complex yet simple to learn combat system and a whole host of tutorials to help ease in newcomers. The world is massive but never dull to explore, pushing the Nintendo Switch to its limits and managing to run incredibly well even during the busiest of fights. Its soundtrack is phenomenal and varied, covering a wide range of emotions and instruments. Its frequent use of flutes, in particular, is impeccable and helps give the soundtrack more of a distinct identity. To top it all off, the game stars a fantastic cast of characters and a superb story depicting a world and its inhabitants trapped in a never-ending cycle of war; one which its heroes risk it all to bring to an end so that may potentially forge a new future.
It may re-use a lot of themes from the previous games and there are more than a few similarities to even Xenogears, but it still manages to feel fresh and perfectly hit those emotional beats. All the while rewarding long-time fans with some subtle and not so subtle fan service that helps cement Xenoblade Chronicles 3 as the end of an era for developer Monolith Soft. Much like its characters, the game leaves us walking towards an uncertain future. Who knows what’s in store for Xenoblade going forward? But if there’s one thing this series has taught me, it’s not to be afraid of what’s to come. If anything, I’ve never been more excited for Xenoblade‘s future and that story DLC can’t come sooner.