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Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers is perhaps not the first game that comes to mind when one considers action RPGs, but there’s no shortage of action. The regular fights are engaging, but the true action occurs in its dungeon bosses and trials. These challenging fights against dangerous foes require constant viligance and players to react quickly as the fight unfolds, providing the game with more than its fair share of showpiece occasions.
With those action bona fides sorted, Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers easily emerges on top for Best Action RPG thanks to the sheer quality it exudes all over the place. The combat brilliantly utilises both its mechanics and fantastic encounter designs, while stellar visual and audio design make even the quieter moments a pleasure to experience. Against all this is a fascinating story as players are taken to a brand new world while still unravelling threads carried over from the overarching Final Fantasy XIV story.
2016’s Dragon Quest Builders was a great sandbox action role-playing game, with many features that gave players ways to create, explore, and battle. But it always felt just a bit too limited in its execution. Fast forward to 2019 and the release of Dragon Quest Builders 2. The sequel improves on every single aspect of its predecessor and really shows that this series can stand on its own legs, without being merely a clone of other sandbox games. It has something for everyone, including a very interesting story that follows the events of Dragon Quest II. If one wants to build a great big castle, they can do it. Why not create a farming community and let your NPC friends help you farm the lands? Or would you rather explore the world and find big monsters to defeat? This diversity in gameplay helps Dragon Quest Builders 2 earn second place for Best Action RPG.
With the original Link’s Awakening praised as one of the Game Boy’s most beloved titles, it makes sense that Nintendo would reimagine it for its current handheld hybrid. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening on Nintendo Switch takes the classic game and turns it into a gorgeous diorama of color, while keeping the charm of the original. The environments and character models look like toys, making the game feel like a giant Zelda-inspired playset. Gone is the tedium of having to constantly assign tools to the A and B buttons, as major functions are permanently attached to the additional buttons players are used to in modern games. This makes combat even more satisfying as Link swipes with his sword or dashes in his Pegasus Boots. Meanwhile, the new soundtrack offers gorgeous renditions of the classic tunes from a full orchestra, making it a delight to listen to while exploring Koholint Island. Longtime fans of the game may even shed a tear the first time Marin sings the ballad of the Wind Fish with an actual voice. Overall, Link’s Awakening is a beautiful reworking of a Game Boy classic title that is a joy for old fans, and a great introduction for new fans to discover the Zelda series.
by Alex Fuller, Erik van Asselt, and Kelley Ryan