Dragon's Crown is quite possibly the strangest game released in 2013. It's visual design became the crux of a controversy over the hypersexualization of women in games, while at the same time receiving tremendous praise for its impeccable attention to detail and brilliant artistic nods to painters, sculptors, and architects from throughout history. At first glance, the game seems like little more than a traditional, side-scrolling beat 'em up, but when you get down into the core of the game, there's some truly brilliant stuff going on that's never been seen before. It plays with tradition and pop culture with a fanciful reverence that speaks wonders not only about itself, but about the fantasy genre as a whole.
The uniqueness that Dragon's Crown displays isn't in what it does all of the time or even most of the time, but what it does in the background — little things that could easily be overlooked. Things like the narrator, a simple, British voice-over that happens to be the only source of storytelling in the game. Or the subtle homages to pop culture like Ricky, the dancing mouse with a wizard's hat, or the monstrous killer rabbit that happens to be a full-fledged boss fight. The soldiers that bring a cart of bombs partway through the battle is a wonderful touch. Then there are little pieces of gameplay that smooth the experience over, like how it handles the distribution of loot, transferring items between characters, and an online multiplayer experience that improves when strangers drop in and out of the game. Suffice it to say, Dragon's Crown has a lot going for it, which is why it's RPGamer's most original game of 2013.
Sometimes a strong, unique, and well-executed setting is enough to give us the feeling that an RPG is showing us things we've never seen before. Set on the colonized planet of Mars after a change in its axis and orbit leaves it perilously close to the sun and out of contact with Earth, Mars: War Logs contains a deep, cohesive lore that stays interesting as players move through the game. The world's tensions and ongoing wars take place over water, now the most precious resource. It leads to an unusual sort of frontier, post-apocalyptic sci-fi setting where crude scavenging and drug abuse take place in the shadows of corrupt corporations abusing religion, power, and technology to control the masses. Although the specific gameplay mechanics aren't new, the way they flow from the game's lore allows Roy to initially use maces out of steel pipes with scavenged nails welded to the end, and later learn technomancy himself to electrocute foes. Characters are often complex, and story choices abound, although in stark contrast to the setting's imposed religious morals, they're far from black and white. Mars: War Logs does an outstanding job of using an original setting to its fullest to turn what could have been a bland experience into something fresh and memorable.
Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I Don't Know! doesn't come with mammoth expectations, being a licensed game. Thankfully not only does the game shine, but it also proves to be one of the more original dungeon crawlers in recent years. Taking its cues more from Gauntlet and other older classics than relatively modern games like the Diablo series and its copies, Explore the Dungeon focuses on action first and foremost, using the Adventure Time license to its fullest by providing a unique selection of characters to use. This extends to the dungeons, where boss fights provide unique challenges closely tied to events from the show and rarely provide something as simple as just fighting a tougher monster. Even regular monsters and status ailments show the same flair, providing a game that very strongly ties to its source material. There are very few games quite like Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I Don't Know!
by Adriaan den Ouden, Glenn Wilson, Michael Apps