Best Console RPG
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is a competently made and well-polished MMO, and sometimes something as simple as that is rare and valuable enough to earn great praise. It doesn't do very many things that MMO fans haven't seen before, but what it does is consistently quite good. The eight combat classes are all quite distinct from each other and fun to play, and the game's class-change system makes it easy to try them all out and enjoy their different playstyles. The crafting system is complex and rewarding, letting players develop their own style of crafting by combining techniques from different disciplines. And, naturally enough, FFXIV has a lot of fun quests, exciting dungeons, good music, and a vibrant world and story.
FFXIV: ARR has an impressively wide range of available content for such a new MMO, and that is one of its biggest strengths. At any given time, players can choose to progress through the story quests, sidequests, and class quests, complete guildleves, run through dungeons, participate in public FATE events, complete daily beastman faction quests, gather materials for crafting, go treasure hunting, fill out a hunting log, compete in PvP matches, and various other minor activities. The game is designed to make it quick and easy to switch between these different tasks, regardless of whether you are a solo player, a very social member of a large Free Company, or something in between. Even though FFXIV: ARR boasts a wide range of content, that doesn't stop it from excelling in specific areas. In particular, the major story and endgame battles against classic Final Fantasy characters like Ifrit are incredible. They are exciting, demanding, and extremely memorable experiences, and it is worth playing the game for them alone.
Tales of Xillia is a bright spot in a year that was quite thin on major console JRPGs. As is usual in Tales games, the best part of Xillia is its cast. Most of the characters manage to transcend the basic JRPG tropes upon which they are founded, and everybody in the cast experiences noteworthy character development over the course of the game. Jude is an especially nice protagonist, an intelligent young man who develops strength in his convictions as he gains maturity through adversity.
Xillia also demonstrates an increased level of comfort in HD graphics on the part of the Tales team, and features a quality soundtrack. The battle system is comfortable for Tales veterans, and the ability for characters to team up is a nice twist. It may not be revolutionary, and it suffers in spots from its short development time, but Tales of Xillia is an entertaining and worthy gaming experience.
Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk is the first entry in a brand-new Atelier series, introducing gamers to a rough frontier world that is slowly dying. Despite that background, the game focuses on the peronsal journey of Ayesha, a young alchemist who is searching for her missing sister Nio. The game stands out for its exploration of sisterhood, a rare theme in video games, and for the excellent diversity in its female cast, showing us many different kinds of heroines.
Gust continues to refine the alchemy system that forms the backbone of its games, and in Ayesha that system is easy to use while retaining its complexity. The turn-based battle system has increased in complexity as well, providing some nice challenges without overwhelming the player with statistics. After completing this charming, heartwarming game we're excited to see where Gust goes next with Atelier Escha & Logy.
by Nathan Schlothan, Becky Cunningham