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We knew Kazuma Kiryu’s story was finally coming to an end in 2018, but if we’re being honest, there were large parts of us that weren’t ready to say goodbye to this cast of crazy characters in Yakuza 6: The Song of Life. Haruka has grown up and has a son, Akiyama is still getting into trouble with the law, and Daigo and Majima are doin’ hard time. Kiryu is finally trying to go straight and get out of the yakuza life for good, but as always he keeps getting suckered back into it, and this time it affects his adopted daughter and his baby grandson, Haruto.
What gives Song of Life the edge over other stories in 2018 is that from start to finish you know this is going to be the end. Kazuma is trying to finally give the people he loves in his life the care and rest that they need, and yet is constantly forced to choose between his family and his old life. Meeting the Hirose Family in Onomichi and trying to find out the identity of Haruto’s father puts him back in the line of fire between both the Tojo Clan and the Yomei Alliance of Onomichi. Players are watching Kiryu’s greatest rise and fall in this story, and it’s compelling to say the least.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is a fantastic denouement for a fantastically over-the-top series that constantly reminds its players that it can tell convincing and captivating narratives. If you haven’t had the chance to experience this series, do so with the Kiwami re-releases and then make your way to this amazing gem of a finale.
Since its earliest days, the Dragon Quest series has always featured stories centered around an unassuming hero who goes on an adventure and saves the world. It’s a staple of the series, and far from revolutionary. But what catapults Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age into a solid second place when it comes to story are the myriad subplots and side stories that occur in each and every location the Chosen One visits on his quest, not to mention the very personal stories of his companions. Square Enix has delivered a game that offers new and exciting incidental stories to uncover at every turn, from a dragon terrorizing a mountainside village to an entire town’s population turned to ice. And we haven’t even scratched the surface of the twists and turns of the central narrative, or the revelation at the midway point and how it affects everyone’s development, or the completely optional post-game extra quest, or…
Not since .hack have we seen a story successfully utilize the “game within a game” trope as effectively or as creatively as CrossCode. Taking place on an alien planet, CrossCode’s central story involves a bunch of gamers who take control of “avatars” made of a unique substance called InstaMatter. These avatars physically exist on this alien world, confined to a specific continent and able to interact with puzzles and enemies that may or may not have been left behind by an ancient alien civilization. CrossCode is deliberately unclear as to whether there were actual aliens, or if it’s a background story created by the game’s producers, and this is just one of the many mysterious aspects of the game’s setting that make it so fascinating.
At the center of the story is Lea, an amnesiac girl whose memories are linked to the gameworld of CrossCode. Again, CrossCode makes great use of the amnesia trope, and Lea herself is one of the best protagonists we’ve seen in recent years, and probably the cleverest silent protagonist ever created. Although technically not entirely silent, Lea’s speech function is broken throughout the game, and so she’s limited to a vocabulary of a half dozen or so words that slowly grow over the course of the game, leading to some incredibly memorable dialogue. Throw in some memorable side characters and an intriguing plot, and CrossCode easily earns its spot among the best stories of 2018.
by Sam Wachter, Pascal Tekaia, and Adriaan den Ouden
These awards are dedicated to the memory of our friend Michael A. Cunningham. Mac started at RPGamer in 2006 and would go on to become the long-running Editor-in-Chief. While Mac loved RPGs, he especially loved handheld games, founding the #TeamHandheld hashtag as well as running a personal project site, Pocket Console, where you can read more of his musings on portable games.
You can see Michael’s top games, which is to a Google Document because Mac loved organizing lists in spreadsheets, a tradition continued with our speadsheet-based awards voting form. You can also read the tributes to Michael from the community as well as a list of our favorite works by Mac as well as Francis Gayon’s musical tribute based on Mac’s favourite game, Final Fantasy IV. Also, a special thanks to our friends at RPGFan who dedicated their recent Top 25 Nintendo 3DS Games and Top 20 PlayStation Vita Games features to Michael’s memory.