Hey everyone! 2021 was a profoundly weird year for me. It was a lot more of the same stress and anxiety from 2020 as the pandemic seems determined to continue as long as it can. I started freelancing as a writer and translator, leading to my work being spread out across various sites, which was a very exciting development. This didn’t leave me with a lot of time or motivation to go super deep into a lot of forms of media. I didn’t play enough videogames or listen to enough albums to really make full Best of the Year lists, so I decided to switch it up. This year I wanted to cast a wide net and talk about a variety of my favorite things from this year. You’ll notice that there are no movies on this list, and that’s because I watched maybe two movies from this year, so I didn’t think it was really all that fair to put one of those on here.
Music: Connectivity by Grace Petrie
2020 was a pretty rough year for music. Lots of the major releases got pushed to this year with the expectation that touring would become possible again in 2021. That was at least partially true so we got some pretty big releases this year. For a long time this spot would have gone to The Rumjacks’ Hestia but as soon as I heard Grace Petrie’s new album, I knew it would take the top spot.
Connectivity has a good balance of upbeat and slower songs, all with the top-notch songwriting I’ve come to expect from Grace Petrie. Every song on this album reveals a small facet of her personal views on life and politics, and they’re all heartbreakingly good to boot.
The music ties it all together for me: it’s a gorgeous combination of traditional folk instruments like acoustic guitars, fiddles, and mandolins that makes it a delight to listen to over and over.
TV Show: Lucifer Season 6
For a show that started out as a slightly goofy police procedural with a supernatural twist, it’s pretty impressive to see what it turned into.
When it got cancelled by Fox and picked up by Netflix Lucifer became a little edgier and a lot more atmospheric. Its storytelling became a lot more emotional and the stakes a lot higher on both a cosmic and personal level. It continues the show’s tradition of investigating the core identity of Lucifer himself and finally brings it to a satisfying conclusion. The ending tugged on my heartstrings in all the right ways, leaving me a sobbing mess as the final credits rolled.
I want to give a special mention to Brianna Hildebrand: most of the narrative throughline of the season revolves around her character, and she turns in an absolute barnstormer of a performance as the troubled and deeply conflicted Rory.
I loved this season and I’m glad to see this show go out on such a high note.
Videogame: Monster Hunter Rise
It was a close race to determine my favorite videogame of the year. Psychonauts 2 was a phenomenal game that exceeded all of my expectations, even with 16 years of buildup to its release. It was emotional in all the right places, and changed the mechanics just enough to be familiar but not stale. But Monster Hunter Rise is the game I had the most fun playing this year, so I consider it my favorite.
Following the massive success of Monster Hunter: World, the next entry in the series was hotly anticipated, and boy did it deliver. Considering it came out on the Nintendo Switch, it still looks gorgeous, with the RE Engine making the most of the console’s lower-tier hardware. The areas feel smaller but the Wirebug mechanic means the designers got to play with a lot more verticality. You can now climb walls by running up them, making for more opportunities to explore and creativity during monster fights. There’s a much greater emphasis on movement in this entry. Every weapon now has special moves that let you dodge, counter attacks, or get a lot of height for a jumping attack. It made fights feel more dynamic and exciting.
I’ll likely still be playing this game well into 2022 with its upcoming Sunbreak expansion adding a bunch of new missions, and I think I’m going to enjoy every second.
Other: AEW All Out 2021
It’s so nice to love wrestling again.
I stopped supporting WWE in April of 2020 when they started their mass releases during the pandemic, citing budget cuts despite making record profits due to a massive streaming deal with Peacock in the United States (and also accepting blood money from the crown prince of Saudi Arabia). I didn’t watch a lot of wrestling in 2020 and 2021 but I kept up with what was going on out of curiosity and habit. Then halfway into this year I decided to give AEW Dynamite a real shot, and found it an absolute breath of fresh air.
The storytelling makes sense, the wrestling is exciting and full of variety, and I coincidentally started watching a week before the Dynamite debut of one of my favorite wrestlers, Malakai Black.
AEW’s All Out pay-per-view show was pure magic. In many ways, the wrestling on their next show was better, but All Outwas so high in emotion that I think I liked it more. Whether it was the in-ring return of CM Punk against Darby Allin, the Young Bucks vs Lucha Brothers match for the AEW Tag Team Championships, or the incredible debuts of Adam Cole and Bryan Danielson after the main event, I was frequently nearly jumping out of my seat.
AEW isn’t perfect. They really need to start using their women’s division more than once per show, and hiring Jay Lethal despite multiple allegations of sexual misconduct was a bad move. I still want to see some changes happen but AEW did make me fall in love with wrestling again, and that counted for a lot in the miserable last two years we’ve had.
Thing Not From 2021: Monster of the Week
2021 is the year I played a tabletop RPG that wasn’t Dungeons & Dragons (or something similar). I’ve been running D&D or Pathfinder for many years but when my group and I decided to try something new with Monster of the Week we absolutely fell in love with it. It and other Powered By The Apocalypse games are suited so well to the kinds of stories I like telling, and it has made running and playing games an absolute joy this year.
Running Monster of the Week was such a success in my group that it inspired one of the other players in the group to take up the GM mantle for the first time, and she knocked it out of the park with a phenomenal game full of tension and drama. The simplicity of its ruleset allows new players to pick it up and play it, and allows for more experienced players to have plenty of creative freedom. Writing adventures for it is also a breeze, with the basic structure supplied by the book being an excellent starting point.
I don’t dislike Dungeons & Dragons, but Monster of the Week has quickly become my system of choice this year and I can’t wait to play more of it in 2022.