What started as the Year of the RPG ended up having some bangs, but also a few dull thuds. While some of the RPGs we'd been dying to play came out to critical acclaim, others vanished without a second thought. Others fell flat or were just outright horrid. Thankfully, the year also offered quite a few surprises. So while some of the initial frontrunners might have fallen to the back of the pack, 2010 offered a wide enough variety that even some of the underdogs were able to win out. Without further ado, here are our RPGs of the Year.
Well before we started working on this feature, the staff as a whole had a strong feeling that Mass Effect 2 would be our RPG of the year for 2010. It was the one RPG everyone on staff enjoyed with no dissenters, and we spent countless time eagerly comparing our experiences. Who died in your playthrough? Who was your favorite character? Who was the funniest? Did you cheat on your girlfriend from the first game? Wearing nothing but tattoos — hot, or not? We lamented such things as Garrus being a stick in the mud while thanking BioWare for making him less of a stick in the mud than he was in Mass Effect. From the emotional, jaw-dropping opening sequence to the final mission through the Omega-4 relay, the story, setting, and characters held our attention in a vicegrip and made us care about the people we met.
Although the gameplay's streamlining wasn't a hit for everyone, it gives the game a smoother, easier pace all around. The dropped inventory menus, faster combat, and lack of boring vehicles fix the mechanics that made Mass Effect drag, however the limited skills selection is a definite tip-toe in the wrong direction for RPGamers who want more options there. Working gameplay choices into the plot at both the macro and micro levels is a rare treat, executed with a finesse here that's missing in similar games. Being able to select the order in which to recruit team members, gain their loyalty, and progress the main plot is just open enough to feel like you are in charge of Shepard's tale while staying reined in enough to tell a coherent story capable of a sequel. Knowing critical choices in this game will carry unknown consequences to another make them meaningful and worrisome in a way no other RPG replicates.
As our winner for Best Story, Best Voice Acting, and Best Script, Mass Effect 2 was clearly adored by the staff for its plot and characters, and even those less than enthused with the shooter-style battle system were happy it moved quickly enough to let us get back to the storytelling. As the RPG completed by the most staff members and raved about by the most staff members, Mass Effect 2 is easily our RPG of the year.
Waiting patiently for eight years is difficult, but it's something that Golden Sun fans have had to put up with. However, Nintendo and Camelot Software finally rewarded us by releasing the long-awaited third chapter of the game this year. Golden Sun: Dark Dawn was well worth the wait. Thanks to inspired dungeon design, breezy, fast-paced combat that stays out of the way, and a simple but fun story to push the game along, Dark Dawn offers up everything that made the GBA originals great with a shiny, 3D makeover for the DS. While the game may not have evolved much in its eight year absence, Dark Dawn has proven that the series really doesn't have to. Like Pokémon, the core gameplay remains as addictive and enjoyable as ever, landing Golden Sun: Dark Dawn as our runner up this year.
Perhaps the best thing about Dragon Quest IX is that there are so many different ways to play it. Story fans can complete the main campaign and explore all the side stories in the post-game downloadable content. Power gamers can maximize their characters using the flexible multiclass system and challenge themselves against legacy bosses. Customization fans can play with the extensive alchemy system and collect tons of outfits to dress up their characters. There's something here for almost everyone.
Dragon Quest IX may not have the strongest main plot, but the world in which it is set is quite endearing. The monsters have tons of charm, and the characters populating the world have interesting personalities and problems. They combine with the lovely graphics and the interesting class system to create a fun classic-style RPG. Overall, the game has an approachable and addictive flavour to it that kept us playing for hours on end.
by Glenn Wilson, Adriaan den Ouden, Michael Cunningham, Becky Cunningham