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CrossCode represents three major trends that have emerged over the past several years. First, a flood of titles appearing first on Steam Early Access. Second, a resurgence of retro inspired titles featuring graphics and gameplay styles from the 8 and 16-bit eras. Third, ambitious indie titles trapped in developmental purgatory. So there’s an argument to be made that the first surprise is it actually came out this year. However, that’s rather underselling it, as more importantly, the game is very good and very polished. It is surprising indeed for a low profile indie title made by a small team to provide more content than many triple-A titles on the market. This was a much needed success story as compared to some of the lackluster titles that were developed and released under similar circumstances.
CrossCode stands out for improving upon the early ’90s formula rather than just trying to copy it, for creating new ideas instead of being a slave to old traditions, and for not using procedural generation in place of fully crafted content. Every inch of the map looks like it was handcrafted down to the smallest blade of grass, with every pixel in its right place, a unique personality for every NPC, and hundreds of well designed quests that felt worth doing. Lea is an inspiring heroine with a compelling story to tell in a fully realized virtual world.
Assassin’s Creed has always been a very love/hate franchise, especially when it decided to dip its toes into the RPG realm. While Origins was a bit of a mess, it was obvious that Ubisoft learned from its previous mistakes when Assassin’s Creed Odyssey released. With Ancient Greece as the backdrop for this new adventure, there’s a lot to uncover from old gods to new. Taking on the role of either Alexios or Kassandra, players are given a surprisingly deep story about two siblings, the role of family, and how the gods are punishing jerks. Origins was a struggle to get into, but Odyssey surprises in that it puts players into the action right from the get go with protagonists who are interesting and compelling. It’s clear that this RPG-inspired reboot was the surprising direction that this series clearly needed to take, and the gamble finally paid off.
Many RPGamers were skeptical about the sequel to Bandai Namco’s epic crossover with Studio Ghibli. Depending on whom you asked, the first game was hit-or-miss with its story. Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom also lacked the direct influence of Studio Ghibli, leaving fans wondering if it could stand on its own. Luckily, some of Ghibli’s magic did manage to seep into Ni no Kuni II’s writing, giving RPGamers a magical tale about hope and peace. The game’s main draw is the town building, and it is seamlessly integrated with the game’s story. Recruiting citizens for your kingdom feels amazing, and you will find yourself scouring the world to track down every last one. Even though you can’t recruit monsters anymore, the game lets you create spirits that are too cute for words. Ni no Kuni II also gives you plenty to do, with strategy battles, a crafting system, randomized dungeons to explore, and quests to complete. Ni no Kuni II is worth checking out if you want a fun, whimsical RPG to lighten the mood.
by Joe Hanley, Sam Wachter, and Kelley Ryan
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.