2021 Virtual Xmas Card

My expectations were too high. Last Xmas I was filled with hope that we could get through this whole Covid thing if everyone just did the bare minimum a little longer. I should have known that "bare minimum" is a bridge too far for many.

Not you though. It seems every article I post on this site gets 5 or 5 million views with absolutely nothing in-between. Anyone reading this post is in that elite 5 and I have total faith in you.

At the end of the 2000s and 2010s I recapped my favorite games of the decade. It was fun but I'm not doing that format anymore. Starting last year I switched to these much shorter recaps. Think of them as an annual holiday card you receive from a college classmate you only vaguely remember.

I also have to face reality, making it through the 2020s isn't a given. I'm fine. I'm not anticipating any tragedies, but neither were the various acquaintances +/-20% of my age I've lost in the past year. Seriously, it's been a tough year and I suspect my tone reflects that. Queuing-up stuff for a decade recap is a gamble even without a global pandemic. I'll stick with these mini annual recaps until I lose interest or, well, nevermind. Again, I'm totally fine both mentally and physically. I'm only feeling a little cathartic after a demanding year.

I know I'm not alone - 2021 was not awesome for most. I think people hoped to return to some pre-2020 existence but that's not an option. Life only moves in one direction. Everything changed in 2020, just like 2001, in ways that can't be reversed. Of course there are many other years where life radically changed but these are the only I lived through (and remember). Being into retro gaming makes me extremely aware that you can never really go back to a previous time. You can feel nostalgic. You can setup a room in your house frozen in time. You can't ever fully go back in time. I get the impression some people have a difficult time accepting that in 2021.

I'll try to make the best of it all. 2021 wasn't all bad for me. Over the course of the year my wife & I enjoyed our 20th anniversary and our oldest started college. The Midwest Gaming Classic returned and I had a great time there. It was the first large gathering I attended since.. hmm, I'm not sure. Something in late 2019 I suppose.

I really didn't post much this year. At least compared to 2020. I've been flipping between a few programming projects that I'm not ready to share yet. It's been that kind of year.

Alright, let's get to the Xmas stuff already!

Last year I showed-off a number of things from my holiday tree. Here are some new additions:

Zelda ornament

Hallmark delivered some solid ornaments again. OK, they're overpriced, I won't argue that. Some startup will eventually "disrupt" the market by producing roughly equal quality ornaments for a fraction of the price. Take these tiny Zelda ornaments, they look nice but probably cost Hallmark $1 each to produce.

Link ornament

If you thought these two ornaments came in the same package you would be wrong. They are sold separately because of course they are.

Mario ornament

This year's Mario ornament is very good quality again.

Mortal Kombat ornament

Mortal Kombat had to be a mistake. I can't believe Hallmark would knowingly make ornaments for a "M" rated game. This gives me hope that a Night Trap ornament could exist in the future.

Donkey Kong ornament

This is the 3rd Mario Kart ornament they've done. I have a feeling they're going to produce at least 10 of them.

PlayStation ornament

This is not new but I didn't show it last year. It's from a set of PlayStation ornaments that Gamestop sold a couple years ago.

Now for the part you maybe came for - my 2021 in games recap.

Trails of Cold Steel IV

I started the year by finishing Trails of Cold Steel IV. It was a satisfying ending to the story arc, although there is another installment that was announced last spring. This was a good year for Falcom fans with four localizations announced. I expected Hajimari/Reverie to be localized but had given-up hope for the other three. Getting localizations faster would be awesome. As a long time Falcom fan I'll happily settle for getting them at all.


Ys IX was next. If I ever do a ranking of the Ys series it's somewhere around 3-5. It's hard to top Ys VIII and Celceta is a soft spot for me. It will take a lot to bump those from my top 2 spots. Ys IX improved on the combat and graphics from VIII. The cast was interesting but didn't hook me as much as VIII. The story was kind of ‘eh. It's not bad but could be the worst in the series. Ys Origin had the "least" story if that makes sense and Ys IX might have been better with less story. The setting and characters were interesting on their own. A fairly light story could have held it together. They tried to do something as complex as Ys VIII but it was too much. I still highly recommend Ys IX - it was a lot of fun and the positives far outweigh the negatives.

Bowser's Fury

I played Super Mario 3D World on Wii U around 2019. It was one of my favorites in the series. I bought the Switch remake and went through it again. Some combination of age and early carpal tunnel have messed-up my reflexes but I got by. The semi-sequel, Bowser's Fury, was all around great too. It's a lot shorter but there's plenty to explore. The level design was fresh, this wasn't a rehash of the previous game.

South Park: The Stick of Truth

Last year I played South Park: The Fractured But Hole, this year I played the precursor - South Park: The Stick of Truth. I definitely should have done these in the opposite order. Stick of Truth is very good but every single bad thing about it is fixed in the sequel. I definitely recommend these games, just do them in the intended order.


Over the summer I tried to close out my GTA backlog. Vice City was my favorite game of the 2000s, I stand by that. I skipped GTA III and San Andreas for lack of time to play "grown-up" games while my kids were young. I played both this year but didn't finish either. GTA III is a rough game to start after playing the later games. If I played it when it was new I'd declare it one of the greatest games ever. Today I had a tough time figuring out the map and found many missions frustrating. I made it up to one of the final before quitting.

GTA: San Andreas

I could immediately see why San Andreas is considered one of the best in the series (if not the game best ever). It's a very solid upgrade over Vice City. I prefer the Vice City setting but can't claim it's technically better in any other way. I got pretty far in San Andreas but began to feel worn out by the giant map. Many missions require traversing a great distance and any small mistake is a restart. GTA V solved this by adding checkpoints in missions. I quit San Andreas when news of the remakes broke. I'm curious to see what "quality of life" improvements they add. I've heard they're kind of buggy but there will be patches. I suspect I'll be happier restarting on the remake anyway. I definitely would have finished it otherwise though, I can get past a little burnout.

Shakedown Hawaii

On to a GTA-adjacent game - Shakedown Hawaii. I planned to play this when it was first released and didn't want it falling into my perpetual backlog. I really enjoyed Retro City Rampage and wanted to try this spiritual sequel. This was also a great game all around. There are so many missions, but they are mostly short and never feel like a drag. The new real estate / business system was my favorite addition. Normally I'm not a huge fan of these systems but Shakedown Hawaii kept it simple. It's also a very funny game with biting commentary on several modern trends.

Doki Doki Literature Club warning screen

Oh no, what did I get myself into?

Doki Doki Literature Club

During the Halloween season I played Doki Doki Literature Club because I heard it was a horror game. I won't spoil it. I'll just say, wow, it totally freaked me out. I would definitely recommend it if you're looking for an unsettling experience. I usually am that time of year.

Blue Reflection: Second Light

The last new game I started, and haven't yet finished is Blue Reflection: Second Light. It's alright so far. I did fall asleep playing it once because there are just so many bonding events it throws at you. The events themselves amount to mundane conversations with relaxing music playing in the background. It's definitely a formula for sleepiness. The battle system is the opposite, very hectic. I'll finish this sometime in early 2022.


If you follow this site (and you must or else why are you reading this of all things?) then you already know I wrote a little guide comparing the Ys III console ports earlier this year. This was fun and occasionally frustrating to play again.

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes

This year I also replayed Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes and posted a disjointed article about it.

Does anyone care what I listened to this year? Probably not but here it is anyway.

Spotify - top songs

I listened to the Ys IX soundtrack just enough times for it to largely dominate my most played song list. I think I listened to it a grand total of 4 times which must be enough. #1, #2, and #4 all were on my treadmill playlist too. #5 is on my list of more chill songs for working. The #3 song is odd. I have no memories of actively playing it. It's on my "stuff for the car" playlist and I never skipped it. It's a perfectly fine song.

Spotify - top artists

I think I'm past the point in life where there will be much variation in lists like this.

Spotify - top podcasts

This list is pretty on-brand for me too.

As for 2022, I'm not offering any hopeful thoughts since that turned out so badly last time. There are things I'm optimistic about. I already mentioned a few Falcom games have scheduled localizations. I assume I'll buy a SteamDeck and work through my backlog. Breath of the WIld 2 seems like a thing that will happen. I might even travel a little more and other "normal" things. I hope all 5 of you reading this have something to look forward to also.

Merry Xmas and happy new year.