Seaman was a perpetual "what the hell was that?" butt of jokes at Giant Bomb, but Dan Ryckert recently got the gumption actually to go through it, streaming it every day to its end. (Dan gets a lot of guff for the gaps in his education, but he has a genuine open-mindedness and curiosity about the world and his areas of interest that many of his critics lack.) You might have to skip/put up with some streaming carnival activities like eating gross jellybeans for donations and audience members playing rude SFX (some are pretty well-timed and genuinely enhance the experience, but this inspires lesser comedic efforts later on). The game, though, is genuinely off-the-wall, ahead of its time, and of its era all at once. Bonus: recognizing Jeff Kramer as the voice of Seaman before he would go on to play Francis York Morgan; he has a knack for offbeat, rambling characters. I hope Dan assembles his efforts into one supercut for historical preservation, but the VODs are as of this writing up on his Twitch channel. (A Seaman segment opens nearly every video starting with "Getting the Rust out" and ending with "I HOPE SEAMAN SHUTS UP OR ESCAPES".)

I cannot make mention of Seaman without bringing up Japanese-PM assassination thriller Remote Control, where Seaman plays a crucial role in breaking up the protagonist's relationship:

“You know, I’ve been playing that game again,” she said, glancing over at the aging computer in the corner of the room. She had hauled it out of the closet not too long ago and taken to playing a game she had loved in college.

Aoyagi nodded. “Feeding that creepy fish.” The peculiar game involved nothing more than looking after a thoroughly unlovable talking fish.

“Well, the fish said something that hit the mark.”

“It doesn’t even look like a fish.”

“I know, but it said something after I fed it. It said, ‘Don’t settle for too little.’” Aoyagi couldn’t tell whether he was expected to laugh or cry. “And it hit me - it was talking about us, about you and me.”

“I’m not sure I like having my future decided by a talking fish.”

**********

Six months later, he went to a shop that dealt in secondhand computer games and on a whim bought the one with the creepy fish. Perhaps it was a form of rehabilitation, a way of testing how much of the hole he’d been able to fill.

At first, he was just going through the motions, tending the computer aquarium according to the instructions; but gradually he grew more intent on the game until, to his complete amazement, he was stopping people at work to tell them about the condition of his virtual fish. One evening at the end of the second week, the fish suddenly turned to look out at him.

“Don’t settle for too little,” it gurgled.

“You shit!” said Aoyagi, stabbing his finger at the screen. “That’s what you told her. That’s what fucked everything up.” The fish ignored him and swam calmly away through glowing blue pixels. “But you know,” Aoyagi muttered at its receding tail, “if I’d given her the smaller half [of the chocolate bar] that day, she’d have been mad about that instead.”

The fish ignored him, but finally turned back with a withering look. “Did you say something?”

I got thinking about Twelve Minutes - how did this get financed with the story it ends up having - and I suddenly remembered a highly-acclaimed book I'd attempted to read last year, The Shadow of the Wind, that ended up having the same twist. In turning over that strange coincidence (or is it??) in my mind, I think I've arrived at a potential answer to the big question - but I have to talk about the nature of the twist to discuss it all, so SPOILERS below.

NES: I actually had asked for an Atari 2600, like my friend Vicki Nelson had to play Pac-Man. My mother bought me an NES for Christmas because the person at the store told her this had better graphics - which was right. I seem to recall that Zelda was the game that was used to demonstrate that to her - I'm not sure if there was a graphical demonstration; I think there may have been a mention of the game's complexity in there - so I guess Zelda was the game that sold the system, just to my mother. It was the first game that showed me video games could be worlds in themselves (as discussed here), so this was a fortunate marketing intervention all around.

SNES: This, I just got as a present because it was the new game machine to follow up on the NES. (I actually remember telling my mother that it wasn't really any use getting the system, as, according to Nintendo Power marketing material I had imbibed, the 10,000+ colors of which it was capable of displaying were far more than the human eye was capable of perceiving, so what was the point of getting a game system that showed stuff you couldn't even see?) Like many people, the game that impressed me of the system's capabilities was ActRaiser - that screenshot with your character facing off against the first world's centaur boss - but Final Fantasy II was the first game with which I really fell in love on the platform. I'd had the system for a good time before that, though, and I actually was leery of the game for a good long while initially for not being a direct sequel despite the II in the title.

Genesis: Phantasy Star II, full-stop. I pored over Game Players' coverage over and over. Look at that spread! Your first party member is a product of bioengineering! Man, I read that article so many times when I was a kid, and now I want to read it again.

Sega CD: The Lunars. I think I've told this story, but I was introduced to Lunar by a penpal who sent be a VHS tape he'd made of all the animated cutscenes. (He also started off the correspondence by sending me a FF3 cartridge right out of the blue.) He was the first person to whom I could talk about my love of RPGs, and we exchanged very long letters about all the 16-bit titles. I hope he's in a good place.

Saturn: I asked for one in anticipation of the 32-bit version of Lunar. Of course, a Saturn version of that game famously never came out in the West, so my Saturn became the machine on which I played Myst (and Resident Evil, though that didn't happen in earnest until many years later). I should apologize to my father for asking for it. $399 is no small amount today and was even less so back in the '90s; I think he bought it only because he was stuck for anything else to get me that year. My father also railed against my plan to buy PS3 for $80 or whatever back on release - "you could buy an entire accounting program for that!" - and while screenshots of the game's olive world eventually dissuaded me from that course of action, perhaps I should have learned to trust his judgment on Sega misfires.

N64: I got this but never used it. I wanted to play the Resident Evil games - 2, at least, though I had no particular affinity for 2. I had just heard that they had toned down the gore for the N64 release, which was a sticking point for me in the old days when it came to survival horror. (I went through Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare without hitting a single dog enemy.) That reticence eventually faded, of course, for better or worse. I can't quite reconcile this with my acquisition of the Saturn Resident Evil - perhaps I was trying to minimize the violence whenever possible. In any case, I never got that N64 copy of RE2 and didn't play the game until decades later on the PSP. The N64 is packed away somewhere, not having hosted a single game since its second-hand pawn-shop acquisition by me, unfortunately.

DS: Lunar: Dragon Song. (Or Genesis, since I got the Japanese version.) It was indeed bad, but I don't have the raging hate for this game that some fans do. It's too inconsequential, for one thing. There were umpteen Lunar continuities by this point (TSS, SSS, GBA, the novels, possibly the audio dramas), and this game didn't fit in any of them.

PSP: Lunar: Harmony of Silver Star. I've actually gotten way more use out of my PSP than I thought I would. I thought it would be Lunar and out, but I've used it to play numerous PS1 games I missed - Resident Evil 2 and 3, FF7, a number of Square's more questionable titles like Chrono Cross and Legend of Mana - plus otome games, retro compilations, puzzle titles... It's been a great little buddy throughout the years.

PS2: Silent Hill 2 (and 3 and 4). Probably the most prestige choice on this list. Unfortunately, the PS2 proved to be the most fragile of my consoles: I had to get it secondhand, as it was well into the PS3 generation that I got into Silent Hill. My initial purchase died prematurely and had to be exchanged, and though the replacement served me faithfully through many titles, the laser, or something, on it is now dead and has defied repair, with several major titles in my collection unplayed. I should just emulate, but it seems a waste to have the discs for so many games and not use them.

Gaming PC: OK, obviously, I had a PC before this game, but I did for the first time buy a gaming-spec laptop in anticipation of...NightCry. It didn't have top-of-the-line specs, and I needed a new machine at the time, but I did make a point of getting a mid-range gaming model and not just something built to handle a word-processing program so that the towering tech demo that is NightCry, which I Kickstarted, could be handled. NightCry had major problems, but I wasn't sorry we got that game. I got enough out of it to make it worthwhile.

PS4: Mass Effect: Andromeda. I saw the combat and thought it looked really fun. And it was really fun! I liked this game, despite the uproar. I know many say the choices weren't as impactful as the unplayed-to-me originals, and even without a point of comparison, I can see cause for , but I enjoyed the gameplay and the scenario and Planet Blood Dragon. It was a solid 7/10 for me.

Vita, kind of, in PSTV: Neo Angelique: Tears of an Angel, whose surface, despite my interest, I have barely scratched. I wanted to catalog my play experience (the bane of my forays into Angelique games), and I lost the text for my second post. I found the image files, and I want to get back into the game, even if it's with a replacement script for that second post, but another Angelique title (previously, the translation project for the SFC original; currently, Luminarise) is always beckoning. Mathias, man, I'll come to see you someday. Bring your dagger. It'll be happy stabs for everybody.

Switch: Deadly Premonition 2. *Sigh.* What story choices that game made. When it was over (or nearly over - I refused to go through with that choice at the climax and simply turned the game off, never to be played again), I sold it immediately. I just wanted it out of the house.

1. Dead by Daylight: In this age of microtransactions and games that last forever, it seems that everybody has that one eterna-game that they're always playing, that they're always talking about - nowadays, FF14 has been a popular choice. Well, in 2021, this horror fan tried out the 4-v-1 20-minute slasher movie-maker Dead by Daylight, and now, I have joined their ranks. Its success, like that of any good survival horror protagonist, comes down to how effectively it utilizes its available resources: its properties, its characters, its players themselves. You want great interpretations of classic horror villains? How about a genuinely scary, true-to-source incarnation of Michael Myers that's revived the character in popular consciousness as much as the new movies? You want great original characters that aim for the fences? How about a K-pop killer in a pseudo-romance with his savvy, almost-suspecting producer who sees too much of her frustrated artistic ambitions in him to listen to her better instincts? How about a human incarnation of The Birds? How about a zombie cowpoke called "Deathslinger" with a harpoon gun and great chase music? Gameplay variety is almost infinite, changing based on the killer you're facing, the map you're on, the abilities of your fellow survivors, and the behavior of your fellow players. Everything and one brings something to the table.

2. Gauntlet: Back in the fight, with blade and steel! When I first played Gauntlet 2014, I freaking hated it. A Gauntlet game where you could initially take only three hits? What were they thinking? But I persevered, and I'm glad I did. Despite that initial hurdle, I think what makes Gauntlet 2014 is that it knows what makes Gauntlet. It knows that, given his excuuuuuuse-me-princess yipes in the original game, the Elf could have never been anything but an annoying twerp. ("For better or worse," the announcer sighs upon his resurrection, "the Elf is back.") The announcer is the final boss. As it ever should have been. It didn't try to replace the hordes of enemies or the piles of shiny treasure or Death; it just used modern gaming sensibilities to intensify them to an elevated form. The modern touches are added in a way that complements the base of the game - character abilities that taken some mastering (not too much, but thought and skill are required) and capitalize on the characters' hallmarks (the heavily-armored Valkyrie gets a shield whose proper use is instrumental in tanking for your teammates and wading safely through the hordes); using your treasure to buy equippable moves to build flexible loadouts; costume customization. There's just enough complexity to give the game depth but not get in the way of Gauntlet's go-go-go, in-the-moment dungeon-dwelving; it makes it fun like you remember Gauntlet being. I had a great time going through it. This seems to have been conceived as part of an initiative to revive old arcade titles in the publisher's stable, but given the lack of followups, it doesn't seem to have taken, and what a pity. I would have loved to have seen other classics revitalized in this manner.

3. 428: Shibuya Scramble: With this magnum opus, Chunsoft asked: what if we tried to make a visual novel like a TV series? And it works, both as a choose-your-own-adventure from the Chunsoft line and as a big-budget media production. I frequently found myself genuinely admiring shot compositions, and while the acting can be goofy, it's goofy in an engaging manner, where we're laughing along with the players, not at them - I was genuinely involved with the characters and events. Plus, despite its ward-wide scope and clutch of rotating protagonists and plotlines, there's a strongly humanistic streak in how seemingly-unrelated cast members weave in and out the various stories, drawing them together: it gets across that a city, no matter how huge and daunting, is ultimately a patchwork of people. In some ways, I don't like the story as much as Kamaitachi, and the final "episode" is a bit of a mess gameplaywise. But I can't deny that overall, this is a big success.

4. Paradise Killer: What an audacious game, an unapologetically brilliant bolt from the blue (and pink and neon teal) - it comes out of the gate with its utterly unique world guns blazing. As I said, Paradise Killer is the most AESTHETIC I've seen in a game, nigh-every perspective of every location composed to be a vaporwave album cover. From its opening title card and its tale of Lady Love Dies deceived by the god Damned Harmony, it declares itself blatantly uninterested in timid stories or characters. I will say that the detective gameplay can be a little wanting - I wish, in the final trial, that the degree to which your conclusions were supported was more dependent on the evidence you gathered. The game is better approached as an explore-'em-up collectathon - and who wouldn't want to explore a world this unrelentingly gorgeous and bizarre?

5. Donut County: The perfect confection - gone before you know it but very sweet. It's also a way more impressive balancing act that one might initially appreciate given its lightness. The writing is sharp and smart but not snarky. The visual style is picturebook-delightful but genuinely deft in its lineless style, sunny palette, and evocation of its American Southwest setting. Its gameplay smoothly indulges the thirst for avuncular mayhem that Untitled Goose Game would come to embody - and even entwines it with character development, bringing its story to a heartfelt yet never-schmaltzy moral. Everyone should enjoy this.

6. Redord of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth: Wonder Labyrinth is proof that endings can make all the difference. The gameplay is competent, with some glaring holes, and the visuals can be lush, though their inspirations and appropriations at times painfully apparent. But the emotion of the story's denouement is truly beautiful. Would that all fandoms showed such unbowed, unaging love to their favorite stories and characters.

7. Even the Ocean: In a way, I feel guilty about putting this below Wonder Labyrinth, as that game is derivative in many ways, whereas Ocean is wholly original and daring. But again, as with Labyrinth, it all comes down to the ending, and I have to put a highlight spoiler here: I find the school of environmentalism that embraces the apocalypse as just punishment for humanity's crimes creepy. The ending is audacious in a way I can't recall any other game being, in how it asserts, contrary to everything video gaming has taught us, that the actions of one person cannot negate or redirect the course of an entire society, and the uncomfortable tone doesn't take away the good parts, like the game's gorgeous visuals, diversity of cast, and ability to craft heart-pounding action with a total lack of violence. I would say, though, that it does cast a pall over the experience as a whole.


I have had a very busy 2021. You wouldn't guess that based on my online activity, which has slowed to a crawl. I got out of debt, for one thing. I took on a number of new jobs that bolstered my professional translation career, particularly as it applies to game translation. I reached a health milestone I thought I never would. A significant, long-tenuous family relationship was strengthened. Thanks to incredible generosity, I received an amazing gift that's significantly improved my life. I've been trying to get laws enforced regarding a nearby puppy mill and in doing so have uncovered layers and layers of local obstruction that just keep getting more and more byzantine. I've been trying to reach a decision about where I want to live in the future and have come to a number of realizations regarding current, past, and prospective hometowns in the process - and there's still more to mull over.

There are games that I started, but could not finish, in 2021 that I feel define the year. I feel an accounting of the year would be incomplete without a complete reckoning with them. There's also one year-defining game, Angelique Luminarise, that I didn't even get to start but which is going to take a significant amount of time to play, as I want to chronicle my play experience.

Therefore: I am taking a note from our corporate overlords and expanding my gaming 2021 into fiscal year 2021. I'm going to use January, February, and March to close out this momentous gaming year. But it's December 31, and a look back is required. Consider this list tentative. What follows are the 2021 games still in consideration, that might very well deserve a spot on this list: