Final Fantasy XIV was one of the most disappointing and miserably flawed RPGs ever released by Square Enix. It was RPGamer's Biggest Letdown of 2010, and was such a debacle that the company had to formally apologize, promising to spare no effort in reviving the game and restoring its fans' confidence in the Final Fantasy brand. Still, such things are easier said than done, and the original FFXIV faded from the public's eye and its servers were eventually shut down. And yet, against all odds and expectations, the Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn development team really did live up to its promise. Built on a new engine and created with nothing short of a Herculean development effort, A Realm Reborn has proven itself to be a fantastic game. With a much more beautiful world, more finely tuned gameplay, more content, and significantly more accessible system requirements, it is such a dramatic improvement over the original that it's our biggest surprise of 2013. There was no reason to ever expect FFXIV: ARR to succeed so well, and yet it has. It is a rare success story for subscription MMOs, which have been plagued with the accusation of being a dying and obsolete business model. While there is still room to cast doubts on the game's future, Square Enix's support for the game is going strong, and it has the potential to keep on improving from here out.
Many of our staff members were a bit iffy on the first Dragon Fantasy. It was a game with a ton of heart and was clearly a throwback to what made RPGs classic, and yet we didn't enjoy it. Regardless, our fans of supporting indie development decided to try Dragon Fantasy Book II with an open mind, and the difference between the two games is night and day. Book II's strengths lie in the tightness of the humor, a strong emphasis on pacing and direction, and combat that's miles above better than its predecessor. We enjoyed the game enough to even earn the rare and elusive PSN platinum trophy.
Generally it's not surprising when a new Zelda is good. However, being the first 2D Zelda in some time, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds left many fans of the more recent three dimensional games with some doubts. Thankfully this turned out to be for naught, as A Link Between Worlds is far more than a nostalgic cash-in. The game seems to find the perfect balance between just about everything: a great mix of old and new, lots of freedom without leaving the player lost, and plenty of challenge without frustration. It may not be the biggest surprise of the year, as it is still a Zelda game with the qualities we've come to expect. Still, it has been some time since a Zelda was this surprising, and it will be interesting to see how Nintendo uses ideas from the game in the future.
by Nathan Schlothan, Sam Marchello, Michael Apps