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Game of the Year 2013

I hadn't planned on making this list until past Christmas, but my schedule is filling up fairly quickly. I figure I'll get this done and edit in any changes if I play something better by the end of the year (doubtful, but you never know).

In any case, this is the best of what I played this year. Not all of these came out in 2013, obviously, but I don't really care about that. Keep in mind I haven't played a great many of the best games of the year - you won't see The Last of Us on here simply because I haven't played it, not because I'm a pretentious douche.

List items

  • 2013 was a stellar year for RPG fans like me. I've been disappointed with Level-5's PS3 efforts, being more of a fan of their Dark Cloud and Rogue Galaxy games for the PS2 than I was anything related to White Knight Chronicles. I had some fears that Ni no Kuni would be more like WKC than a traditional RPG, and I'm happy to report I was completely, delightfully wrong.

    For me, Ni no Kuni is a classic. I usually dislike RPGs and games that center around children or child-like elements, but Ni no Kuni's touching story of a boy riddled with guilt over his role in his mother's death is great - most of the time. There's some usual "he is the one" bullshit, but if you can get past that, the central characters are lovable and the plot is as decent as just about any in a JRPG. The world is vibrant and lush, and while it draws inspirations from pretty easily identifiable sources, it's so beautifully realized that it's hard to find fault with it.

    And then there's the side-questing and loads of stuff to do. First and foremost is the "catch 'em all" companion system, in which you capture and recruit enemies to fight for your main character. These can be upgraded with food items that permanently increase statistics. It's a hell of an addicting system that owes much to the Pokemon series of games in all the best ways. There are side quests aplenty, and while most aren't anything to write home about, neither are there any particularly annoying ones either. The post game content is when the game truly shines, as a new dungeon is unlocked and some various new side quests become available.

    Drippy, the protagonist's sidekick, deserves a special mention here as my favorite new character not just of the year, but of the generation. He's immensely likeable and very well designed. Whoever did the character art for this game deserves all the very best.

    More than almost every other game I've played this generation, I really, honestly believe Ni no Kuni will withstand the test of time. It's not just a much needed revitalization of a genre I'd all but given up on - it's an incredible title in its own right, a game I want everyone to play. It put a smile on my face that's never quite left.

  • Far Cry 3 is precisely what I want out of shooters. There's a big, open world to play with, some RPG elements, reasons to explore and collect all the junk I can find, and best of all, the visuals are fairly easy on my eyes. I liked the story well enough, but it was the exploration and the various little pieces of gameplay that kept me coming back for more. This leaves me seriously hungry for Far Cry 4.

  • Mutton! Fresh mutton!

    Remember a little while ago when I said 2013 was an excellent year for JRPGs? Of course you do! You hang off my every word, oh Sparky fanatic!

    While Tales of Xillia might be a bit tried-and-true for anyone who has played the series' other entries, I enjoyed the everloving crap out of this game. There are still some rough edges - peripheral sounds tend to repeat far too often (mutton! Fresh mutton!) and I would have liked to have seen more of the end-game areas - but overall, this is the best Tales game to date, and a damned fine action-centric RPG. It really doesn't hurt that I actually found myself caring about the central protagonists and quite liked several of the side characters. Some of their stories could have seen a firmer resolution, but overall, this is a decent step forward for storytelling in a Tales game.

  • This was my first Fire Emblem game, and it was truly a delight. I'm a huge fan of turn based SRPGs, and while this isn't quite on the level of Disgaea 4 or Final Fantasy Tactics, it's definitely among my favorites of the genre. I'd love to see more classes and variations in a future sequel, as this felt a bit too rock-paper-scissory, but other than that, this is one of the finest SRPGs I've played in a long, long time. Bonus points to Nintendo for supporting it months after it was released.

  • I wasn't expecting this. I bought the new Tomb Raider half on the merits of GB user dankempster's praises and half on a whim, expecting to find it passably entertaining like a couple of its predecessors. Instead, I was greeted with one hell of an action-adventure game with loads of stuff to upgrade (which I love) and lots of potential for sequels in this rebooted franchise. The limitations of the PS3/X360 were a bit obvious, but with more open areas to explore and bigger/more tombs and puzzle areas to toodle around in, this series could reach its full potential.

  • Yup, I finally played it. Yup, I enjoyed it.

  • I love Metroidvania styled games, particularly when they're as gorgeous and immensely playable as Dust. This game felt right on so many levels - the combat was excellent (if a bit repetitive towards the end), the world was colorful and just large enough for me to get lost in without getting bored, and the sound design/voice acting was shockingly excellent.

  • I'm itching to put this behind Saints Row 4, because all told, I had a bigger, goofier grin on my face throughout the entirety of GTA V. And in fact, GTA V seemed bound and determined to make me hate it at its start. Rockstar does the low vision no kind favors here in its goddamned hard to read fonts and minimap. They have fucking black on black colors on the minimap - or at least, that's what it looks like to me when I'm trying to read it.

    It doesn't help matters much that the game seems stuck halfway between wanting to be fun and trying to be pretentious. You can't store cars ala Saints Row IV, leaving little purpose to the car upgrade shops. The diversions are, on the whole, bland and devoid of the fun of the centerpiece of the game - the heists.

    And yet, there's still quite a bit of fun to be had with Rockstar's latest. Some of the main missions are terrific, such as a mission that sees you doing yoga and ending up on a bad drug trip. The heists are a riot, but unfortunately there are only a few and none of them are optional - some more heist missions after the main game ends would have gone a long ways towards keeping me coming back.

    And then there's the abominable multiplayer, which should have been excised from the game from the start. Seriously, Rockstar - thanks, but no thanks. Leave that fucking shit at the door and devise more fun stuff for me to do when I'm not picking up hippie hitchhikers in the desert.

    I'll also freely admit that at certain points, playing as Trevor made me slightly uncomfortable. I'm not trying to preach any sort of morality here - it's just a game. But two plot points of his did unsettle me, and it led directly to me being a little hesitant to continue down his path until I absolutely had to.

    If it sounds like I'm down on GTA V, it's because I am. As a technical showpiece, it's unrivaled. There are so many small things going on all at once that it's hard not to put this near number one on a purely technical level. But on the other hand, I'm tired of Rockstar's pretentions and the blatant shrugging of the shoulders at the advancements of its rivals in minimaps, navigation, and general playability. It's time the master learned a bit from the students.

  • The last two on my top ten share a common theme - they're essentially game regurgitations. Make no mistake going into it - Saints Row IV is basically an uglier Saints Row III with superpowers. It's a fun little tribute, but this was a game that faced severe publishing problems and it shows. Hopefully with this out the door, Deep Silver can allow for a longer development time on its next Saints Row game, because another rehash like this one, and Saints Row is in serious trouble. As it stands, this game does have a lot to offer in terms of fun small moments - there's one mission near the end that will delight 80's horror nerd slike me to no end, and an ending cinematic showcases just how much fun this series has become over the years. Honestly, despite me giving GTAV the eight spot on technical reasons, this one deserves it purely in terms of how much fun I had with its core gameplay.

  • I told myself I wasn't going to buy this, and then I failed completely when I saw all the piratey elements turn out so Pirates!-like. While I greatly prefer Sid Meier's classic to this, AC IV does the best job yet of hiding the flaws of the series while shoring up its strengths by focusing in on the excellent naval combat. The problems are still here - the basic on-foot "classics" like eavesdropping missions and the largely lame combat system are the most prevalent old problems, while new ones such as (well-disguised) smaller explorable areas will annoy long-term fans. Make no mistake - this is not the savior of the AC series. This is a band-aid. It works for now, but if Ubisoft continues to ignore the root of its problems, the series is stuck in a holding pattern of Tony Hawk proportions.

  • Honorable Mention - While I didn't feel that the Wadjet Eye package I bought this year merited a spot on my top ten, it deos deserve an honorable mention as the best budget purchase I made all year. These are fairly short but fun little point-and-clickers, ones that clearly show a lot of heart and soul as well as honest efforts to improve throughout the series' short lifespan. While Gemini Rue and Resonance didn't wow me, the Blackwell games continue to scratch my inner itch for classic adventure games. Definitely the winner of my first ever "I Wish I Could Give the Developers a Big Hug" award.

  • I wanted to put this in my top ten, but as it's an expansion pack to a game I've already heaped tons of praise upon, I decided to give it an honorable mention instead. This made Civ V, already a great game, even better by making the end game far more interesting and flexible. It also added a lot of fascinating new cultures and miniature campaigns. All told, definitely the expansion of the year.

  • Without question, the winner of my "Best 2012 game of 2013" goes to Borderlands 2. While I think Brave New World is the best expansion, Gearbox deserves heaps of praise for their continued efforts to support Borderlands 2 with full blown expansions and smaller bite sized chunks, as well as the added characters and the awesome Loot Hunt. This was, without question, the game I sunk the most time into in 2013, and it's no wonder why - Borderlands 2 continues to gorw and be incredibly awesome.

  • I make no apologies for my Dead Island love affair. Piss off!