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Final Fantasy XIV put in strong challenges for the big prize with every release since Naoki Yoshida and his team revived its fortunes in A Realm Reborn in 2012. With Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers, it ended up blowing its opposition away and deservedly comes away with RPGamer’s Game of the Year Award for 2019. All of the staff members who played it were universal in their effusive praise as Shadowbringers takes the game to heights that studios dream of.
The development team deserves full credit for its constant efforts at improving the game, not just in adding content but improving the entire gameplay experience. Changes to the combat system have left Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers’ systems in a great place, with new elements — including the very interesting Gunbreaker and Dancer jobs — joined by work to ensure that players don’t have too many things piled on them. And the new content that is on offer is fantastic. The design team has been right at the top of its game with the creation of The First and all it entails. The writing and localisation is once again fantastic, while the main scenario from Natsuko Ishikawa should go down as one of the series’ greatest. Adding to this is another amazing, memorable score from Masayoshi Soken. Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers is a truly glorious experience and the peak of a stellar year for RPGs.
A Trails game challenging for the Game of the Year title is certainly nothing new, and it really did take something special to beat The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III into that top spot. Minus needing an entire further game to get to the saga’s full conclusion, Trails of Cold Steel III was everything that the series fans fans wanted, sucking them back into its incredibly detailed world, offering amazing music and locations in which one can just sit and relax, and gifting a twisting and fascinating story involving incredibly deep characters that are easy to get attached to. Nihon Falcom is truly on a roll with this series and, although western RPGamers have always had to deal with a bit of a wait with it, there’s yet more to look forward to.
Even when looking back at the forty or so years of history of video game RPGs, there is nothing quite like Disco Elysium. Famed designer Warren Spector has in the past professed that his ideal game would be something akin to an RPG set on one city block, a detailed and reactive look at a small community and how the player can interact with that community. Disco Elysium is the closest game yet to being that reality, covering a ramshackle region of Revachol, an Eastern Bloc-inspired city still suffering under occupation from a war half a century gone. Eschewing the traditional focus of combat-heavy gameplay with occasional options for non-violence, Disco Elysium plays far more like an adventure game with stats. And unlike the stats in other games, the twenty-four stats of Disco Elysium are all characters in their own right, manifesting as voices in the player’s head that try to, for better or for worse, direct the player’s decision making. While the game also has a heavy political bent — nearly every character is ready to wax philosophic — it functions spectacularly as the story of one admittedly terrible man. And whatever that ends up meaning to players, the game is receptive to it. Disco Elysium is the new standard for player choice in an RPG. With any luck, it becomes a base on which future creators seek to build and a true shift for the genre.
by Alex Fuller and Zack Webster