And so the crazy influx of games that marked the last quarter of
2004 has come to a close. Mighty contenders rose forth during this
torrent, leaving it so that all too often not mattering which game one
picked, for excellence awaited in every package. But even in a
selection, it comes time to choose the best of the best, the game that
brings it all together in a way that none of its peers could match.
It was a close match, but in the end, the Gamecube heavy weight,
Namco's Tales of Symphonia won our readers' hearts.
The Tales series has never had a particularly warm welcome here on
American shores, battling it out long and hard to forge a place for
itself against the more established RPG titans. Namco's move from
releasing its games on the PlayStation 2 to the GameCube was
questioned by many, who doubted anyone would really take notice of the
game in that smaller market. Gamers though, they go where the games
are, and whether platform shifts or high waters, they weren't going to
let an ace like this pass them by.
Tales of Symphonia brought a leap into the third dimension to Tales'
traditionally stellar battle system, keeping what has always been the
series' crown jewel lively and competitive in this fierce battle to be
the best. Delivered with stellar art and pleasant voice actors, Tales
of Symphonia didn't just rest on its laurels though, working up a
story that managed to seize many an RPGamer's heart, dungeons that
kept lively throughout, and even their own lassie. Tales of Symphonia
truly earned its place at the top of the list.
Following neck and neck was Tri-ace's latest offering, Star Ocean:
Till the End of Time. Bearing what is arguably one of the best battle
systems seen this year, Tri-ace's much delayed and anticipated game
was hungrily devoured by challenge addicts across the land. Along with a
great battle system came fun stories, breath-taking graphics, and a playability
seen by few games. Star Ocean's accomplishments weren't ignored by our readers,
as they have spoken loud and clear, giving Till the End of Time second place overall.
Rounding out the top games of the year is Shadow Hearts: Covenant
from Nautilis. Those who know the history of this series know that
it's had a pretty rocky go of it, getting crushed pretty heavily a few
years back as it fought to compete with Final Fantasy X and Dragon
Quest VII back with Shadow Hearts. The developers though certainly
haven't been daunted as they put together a truly top tier game this
year, working up off of the deliciously dark pseudo-historical take
on Europe while polishing practically every aspect of the design.
Coming in at third, it's certainly not a game to miss this time
by Phillip Bloom