This year a lot of RPGs tried new things. Be it an original approach to battle or a new method of storytelling, 2010 had some very unique RPGs. There is a fine line between originality and being overly complex, so this year's winners tried their best to walk this line. For some the complexity might have been too much, but those who were able to dig in really enjoyed these.
Originality is something that most games usually have just enough of to set them apart from other titles. Resonance of Fate took originality to the forefront and presented a gaming experience unlike any this past year. Its unique battle system required careful planning in order to effectively use its turn-based, action system. The way in which the world map was opened up likewise required strategic placing of colored hexes to build paths and link special enhancement panels. Resonance of Fate even gave the player the ability to not only customize weapons in often ridiculous configurations, but to also modify almost every aspect of the characters' appearances.
Where Resonance of Fate's originality really shines, though, is in the way that its story is told. Rather than having the mystery of the world's plight as the main focus, Resonance of Fate's story instead revolves around the bond of friendship between the three main characters. The larger picture is more of a backdrop to the relationships in the game and this is clearly experienced by how Resonance of Fate gives the player little more information than what the main characters have. In a time where complexity is often sacrificed in order to give players clear and total understanding of a game's plot, Resonance of Fate offers an experience that is original not only in its design and features, but also in its telling.
How can a game that blends hack and slash action and Zelda-style dungeons be original? Well, with Nier, Cavia made an effort to be original in terms of storytelling and by adding some unique twists as far as style. Having a text adventure right in the middle of a fast-paced action RPG was just mind-blowing. Also the characters are not the typical hero mold: you have a hulking hero, a talking book, and a vile young woman. Not the standard in terms of story, right? So yes, Nier might not be a shiny polished experience, but it does some old things in some new ways and that alone is part of what makes the title original.
In a genre dominated by swords and sorcery, Alpha Protocol is a fresh taste of cloak and dagger. It brings all the fun of spy fiction — exotic locales, beautiful women, conspiracies, double-crosses, and shady characters — takes gameplay from the Tom Clancy branded games, then reinforces it with a skill system that is equal parts Mass Effect and Deus Ex into an experience that's all its own. Furthermore, just as RPGamers are getting tired of shallow moral choice systems added to games in an attempt to get a second playthrough from players, Alpha Protocol offers us a chance to see different scenarios based on methodology, and it is a fantastic change of pace. Another thing games promise often are consequences that matter only to offer slightly different cutscenes attached to identical gameplay, whereas Alpha Protocol actually delivers on this promise. While this argument makes it sound like Alpha Protocol is not original, just a mish-mash of well-used elements, but it is much greater than the sum of its parts and such a change of pace in an RPG that we can't help but think of it fondly, despite its flaws.
by Ken Staples, Scott Wachter, Michael Cunningham