Well, this is an unconventional choice for my first Best Of 2013 list centered around games, but hey, this is my blog and I'll do things the way I want, thank you very fucking much. Role-playing games are something I hold near and dear to me, and thus, they're what I tend to play a lot of. There were a lot of stellar ones to choose from this year, and while it pains me to leave out some solid titles (such as Fire Emblem: Awakening, Ni no Kuni and Project X Zone), here are my picks for the Top 5 RPGs of 2013!
5. Soul Sacrifice (PlayStation Vita)
Despite the fact that there are handheld games on this list that are, in my opinion, better role-playing experiences, Soul Sacrifice is undoubtedly the one that takes most advantage of its portable nature. The game is broken up into bite-sized chunks, woven together in an intuitive interface that works as both a compelling hub and an essential part of the lore contained within this beautiful Vita title. Keiji Inafune, a longtime critic of the Japanese game industry, took a struggling system and breathed new life into it by creating a JRPG unlike anything we've seen in quite some time.
Sometimes, role-playing games don't need defined characters, incredibly nuanced narratives, or any other element cut from the Square Enix cloth to be great experiences. Etrian Odyssey IV proves that in spades, by throwing players in the middle of a world and making them pick their party, name the characters, and blaze their own trail (literally, with the integral map drawing mechanic) in its enchanting fantasy world. But don't let the cute designs, great views and stellar soundtrack pull you in too far, because this is one of the most unflinchingly difficult games on the market, and it is thoroughly unafraid to kick your ass in the cheapest ways possible.
Stick around these parts of the internet long enough, and you'll probably gather that I'm ecstatic about the Shin Megami Tensei franchise. Needless to say, the first main entry in the series to be released since the early 2000's coming out alongside the solid Soul Hackers was enough to send me into a tizzy. Atlus did not disappoint, with a game that is easily one of the greatest in series history, and a damn fine experience on its own. An enthralling journey that blends elements of post-apocalyptic turmoil and Japanese feudalism, then throws in demonic combat for good measure, Shin Megami Tensei IV is simply a delectable JRPG treat great for newcomers and series veterans alike.
For years, I'd kind of avoided the Tales franchise, considering it to be a little too "casual" for my tastes, despite the fact that some of the entries are considered to be among the best games ever created. Honestly, I'm not quite sure what tipped me over the edge into buying Tales of Xillia, but damn, am I glad I did. Few games this year blew me away quite like this one, and the folks at Namco-Bandai should be proud of the emotional and thrilling experience they turned out. Twists and turns at every corner, tight gameplay with an intricate leveling system, vibrant graphics with a score to match... there are so many things that went right with this game that it's hard to count.
A series that I've never been particularly keen on, on a system that's hurting for a lot of games at the moment. Truly, this was not the choice I predicted when sitting down and reflecting back on the countless hours I'd sunk into RPGs this year. Yet when all was said and done, XSeed's wonderful adventure was simply the best time I'd had with a role-playing game this year, and the most fun I've had with a game in years. Ys: Memories of Celceta is an absolute knockout, serving both as a strong argument for the Vita and for the entire sub-genre of JRPGs as a whole. No other game in this genre this year sucked me into its world so thoroughly, so effectively, so entirely.
5. Soul Sacrifice (PlayStation Vita)
|This is what happens when you call somebody "chicken" too many times...|
The player takes the role of a customizable magician who travels into the pages of a talking book (just go with it) to uncover the memories of an evil sorcerer, slowly understanding his descent into madness. A unique combat system forces players to juggle a series of spells which act as weapons, traps, healing methods and a variety of other things as they go up against a series of imaginative and deeply grotesque monsters. With a compelling story, beautiful scenery and visceral, satisfying gameplay, Soul Sacrifice is a twist on what gamers expect out of a Japanese role-playing game, especially one from the guy who brought us Mega Man.
4. Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan (Nintendo 3DS)
|"LOL I don't know how to hold this thing!"|
Split up between exploring the fields by ship in third-person and the dungeons by foot in first-person, EOIV is essentially a tile-based rogue-like, as players go through uncharted territories to blindly stumble into a variety of monsters both big and small. You'll be grinding along through a dungeon, mapping out a new route, when you'll get flanked by an overpowered enemy and killed in a few turns. This game will test the patience of even the most seasoned players, but sticking with it will reward them with immense satisfaction and rich gameplay that lasts for dozens of hours. While it might not have many bells and whistles, Atlus' game provides stiffly difficult fun that's easy to get sucked into.
3. Shin Megami Tensei IV (Nintendo 3DS)
|Lo-res The Last of Us.|
A young man must choose his destiny during feudal Japanese times, as he begins a revered tradition of fighting demons. However, all is not as it seems, and a short while in, players realize that everything they think they know about the narrative is completely wrong, and that Atlus is trying to tell an entirely different type of story. This is all backed by solid gameplay that, while pretty standard fare, is nevertheless satisfying and challenging, complete with compelling world exploration aided by beautiful graphics and a fantastic soundtrack. While the actual combat in the game might not be all that innovative, Shin Megami Tensei IV is still an amazing entry in the legendary franchise, and still manages to pull off some new tricks that make me look forward to future entries.
2. Tales of Xillia (PlayStation 3)
|"Milla, want a jack-" "Snow can't stop my passion for fashion, Jude."|
Either taking the role of medical student Jude or living deity Milla, you'll travel through deadly forests, trek across vast plains, and sink your feet into exotic beaches as you attempt to stop the antagonists from gaining control over a deadly device that could spell doom for humanity. Accompanied by a cast of varied and lovable characters, you'll go up against hordes of enemies in a multitude of real-time battles supplemented with a great combo system and solid partner AI. While the narrative can take a bit of a turn for the needlessly muddled, and while grinding can become a bit of a chore for more difficult foes, Tales of Xillia is still a wonderful JRPG, and one that reminds me of the halcyon PS2 days, when I first fell in love with this genre. Anything that can accomplish that deserves solid praise.
1. Ys: Memories of Celceta (PlayStation Vita)
|Don't go chasing waterfa-... welp, too late.|
Adol Christin is an explorer who wandered out of a vast forest, infamous for the claiming the lives of anybody who entered it. Yet somehow he escaped, albeit with a nasty bout of amnesia. Along with a motley crew of playable characters, players guide Adol through a massive variety of environments as he maps undiscovered regions and recovers his scattered memories, all while daring to challenge enemies who intend to harness the powers of a god. Combat is entirely in real-time, with fast and furious action that will keep players on their toes as they frantically switch characters in hopes of taking down some truly intimidating foes. The world is beautiful to explore, as some set pieces left my jaw hanging open like an idiot, as the exhilarating soundtrack pumped into my ears.
A game that anybody who owns a Vita should buy, and a strong argument for purchasing one, Ys: Memories of Celceta is a fantastic game with lots of do. It's a joy to get lost in, which is perhaps the highest praise that can be heaped upon a video game. And that, my friends, is why it's my personal pick for the Top RPG of 2013.
Any games you feel were left out? Agree? Disagree? Sound off in the comments, and look forward to my Top Action Games of 2013, coming out within the next 24-48 hours!