RPG of the Year
There are usually two aspects of an RPG that need to stand out for a game to win RPGamer's Game of the Year award: story and combat. Thankfully, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II excels in both of these areas. Taking years of refinement, this title offers the most impressive Trails battle system to date and one of the finest turn-based systems in recent years.
Players not only have a huge cast of characters to choose from in combat, but there are also fights involving giant mechs, which is always popular. Combat aside, the true highlight of the series has always been its story and Trails of Cold Steel II nails that brilliantly. The plot is highly personal, focusing on all the build up between the characters from the prior entry. Everything continues to build and twist until it all finally comes to a head at the game's jaw-dropping finale. No spoilers here, but needless to say players should dive into this series if they haven't already. The game really hits all the right notes from start to finish and is easily RPGamer's top RPG of the year.
One would think with the worldwide success of Pokémon Sun & Moon, it would be easier to find a plush Crabominable. The most recent flagship Pokémon game is even more interesting because it met with such esteem in a year of ambitious (and often disappointing) experiments. As important as the cutting edge is, comfortable games are also necessary.
Notably, in the case of the Ace from Alola, comfortable doesn't mean bland. At their hearts, Pokémon Sun & Moon are familiar. Many of the Pokémon, items, moves, and situations are series mainstays. However, taking a trip to the tropics has shown slow-and-steady iterations can still bring people together in battle, trade, and exploration. The story, often a side concern, connected personal themes with environmental concerns to create surprisingly effective side characters. Along the way, island trials exploded and expanded the gym battles from previous Pokémon outings, allowing each island to feel like a more organic environment with a sense of physical place. Nostalgia isn't the worst emotion to have, especially when it's allowed to evolve with you.
You know the world has gone mad when it's a surprise that a Final Fantasy title is one of the best RPGs of the year, but after a decade of promises, cancellation rumors, design overhauls, and a rebranding, it's a shock that Final Fantasy XV ended up so pleasurable to play. It's a Japanese game that finally gets how an open world should work: beautiful, large, worth exploring, and filled with optional content. The characters are well-written and memorable, the biggest problem being that we didn't get to see more of them. Combat has the barely comprehensible chaos that Square Enix frequently aims for, possibly in its best implementation thanks to the game's solid interface. Less comprehensible is the plot, though it makes an excuse for visually stunning battles against the series' staple summons. The troubled development period makes it feel incomplete and inconsistent toward the end, but that doesn't change the fact that the game is a blast to play and a time sink enjoyed by RPGamer staff members across the spectrum.
by Michael A Cunningham, Glenn Wilson, and Zach Welhouse