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AFC's 12 Best Games of 2013

This is the big one. The one that people claw each other's eyes out over. The one that nobody can seem to consistently agree on. But given that I'm a guy on the internet on the business of pushing his opinions, it's almost obligatory that I do this. So, finally, here are my top 12 games of 2013. Why 12? Because there are 12 months, and because I'm too fucking indecisive for a Top 10. With that being stated, read on to find out the games that blew me out of the water the most this year.

Hold on to your butts.

12. Animal Crossing: New Leaf (Nintendo 3DS)

It might seem off-putting, having this put on the same list as some of the other titles here. But anybody who has really sat down with Animal Crossing: New Leaf, and learned the ins and outs of its mechanics, would instantly understand. This is one of the most content-rich games on the market, making it a huge bang for your buck. Not only is there a ridiculous amount of things to do, stuff to collect, and land to develop, though, but more so than any previous entry, Nintendo's fourth outing in the popular series has some of the most memorable characters in any game this year. I've met dozens of characters this year, but few of them have stuck with me quite like Isabelle, Reese, Kap'n, or any of the myriad of neighbors I encountered in my scenic town of Anustart. Dozens of hours in, and there's still plenty for me to see, and plenty more people (?) to meet in this game. I'm looking forward to every second of it.

11. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies (3DS) 

The Ace Attorney series has always been pretty damn reliable, and one of my personal favorite franchises. That being said, despite the consistently strong plots and compelling characters, the series started getting a bit repetitive with continued entries, with the exception of the wonderful Investigations spin-off. So, even though I was immensely excited to have more of the characters I'd come to know and love, I was afraid that I'd be doing the same thing I was back in the mid-2000's. How wrong I was, as Dual Destinies is the most fresh and innovative entry in the series, by far. Aside from having a phenomenal story, filled with some of the biggest twists and turns in franchise history, the gameplay here is top-notch. Sure, it's still a point-and-click adventure, but the interface is more streamlined, and the 3D adds an extra level of depth to investigations, not to mention bringing the characters to life in a pretty vivid way. If you have a 3DS, and don't mind a bit of reading, there's simply no reason not to get this game.

10. Remember Me (PlayStation 3/Xbox 360/PC)

From the get-go, I was excited about Remember Me. A futuristic techno-thriller with a strong female protagonist that didn't have ridiculous proportions? It was like somebody listened to what I wanted out of a game and made it happen. Add in some interesting concepts, such as memory as a commodity to be stored and tampered with, and some sweet-looking parkour in future Paris, and I was all aboard. Upon release, the game didn't disappoint. The developers did wonders with the narrative, thoroughly exploring the characters and concepts as fully as they could within a 8-12 hour experience, all while never really bending to modern gaming tropes. Nilin was a fascinating protagonist in an intriguing world, both of which deserve to be explored in more depth with future entries. While combat could have used a bit more refining, this was still a highly original game, something that's becoming less and less common in today's marketplace.

9. Bioshock Infinite (360/PS3/PC)

Maybe it is "overrated" by some standards. Maybe it doesn't explore the interesting themes of white privilege and racial oppression as much as people would like. Really, though, who cares? Bioshock Infinite is one of the most radically innovative games, narrative-wise, to come along in years. Despite the fact that the gameplay kind of falls into the motions of a linear FPS about two-thirds of the way through, the fully-imagined world and brilliant characterization makes up for that. Speaking of characterization, Elizabeth is one of the most fascinating, complex characters to come along in any medium for quite some time, and while some more radical opponents might argue that all she does is further stereotype of women as caregivers, I would invite them to look at her in the larger scheme of the game. The game is essentially about her, not about Booker, who is an admittedly unremarkable protagonist; he simply serves as a cipher to see the importance of Elizabeth through, as one viewpoint to look at her through. People get angry at this game for things that it doesn't do, but in reality, it wasn't ever trying to do many of those things. It's still a wonderful experience that does a lot to push this medium closer to being recognized as a legitimate artform.

8. Ys: Memories of Celceta (PlayStation Vita)

There were plenty of great JRPGs released this year, without a doubt. From the stellar Fire Emblem: Awakening to the intriguing Tales of Xillia to the reliably compelling Shin Megami Tensei IV, it was a great year to be a fan of the sub-genre. But to me, no other stuck out quite as much as Ys: Memories of Celceta, which is not only an excellent JRPG, but a fantastic game by any standard. It has a great deal of replay value, with several difficulty levels and an interesting mechanic of memory-collecting, not to mention challenging, action-packed gameplay that has several intricacies to it that you might not even fully experience on your first playthrough. That, on top of one of the most epic and unique narratives this year, makes this one of 2013's best gaming experiences. It's not a JRPG focused on kicking your ass, or forcing you to grind just to get past one enemy; while that's there, in a certain capacity, Falcom's excellent experience is about adopting a role, then exploring a strange land. And if that isn't a great role-playing experience, then I don't know what is.

7. Saints Row IV (360/PS3/PC)

Something being stupid and puerile is usually not a good thing, and certainly not something you'd say when recommending anything. But to call Saints Row IV anything other than those things would be doing it a disservice. That being said, it's also bloody brilliant in a lot of ways, what with the varied cast of interesting characters and the spot-on send-ups of the gaming industry. On top of this, the game is incredibly fun to play, with dozens of zany weapons and ridiculous superpowers at your disposal. All of this blends together with an ungodly amount of awesome side-missions, a satisfying campaign, and a fun world to wreak havoc in, not even taking into consideration the extensive DLC support Volition has continued to provide post-release. It's a far better sandbox game than a certain major competitor released this year, by leaps and bounds, due to the fact that it's more fun and has much more personality.

6. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)

Even as a longtime, rabid fan of the Zelda franchise, I was beginning to get a bit weary of the format. Sure, Skyward Sword had a great plot, but by that point, the structure of the series was starting to get a bit repetitive, and I started to fear that future entries would start going the way of the unfortunate blemish, Spirit Tracks. Lo and behold, Nintendo answered my prayers this year with The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. A sequel to the classic, A Link to the Past, this new entry in the legendary franchise spiced things up with new gameplay mechanics and an open-ended structure that hearkened back to the old-school NES days. That's not even digging into the excellent narrative, which does things I honestly never expected a game in the series to do. The venerable publisher/developer took longtime criticisms to the franchise and addressed them excellently, then went above and beyond the call of duty to deliver a fantastic experience. Bring on the next game, I say, as I'm excited about the franchise once again.

5. DmC: Devil May Cry (360/PS3/PC)

It's a shame that so many people decided to take a dump on this game, seemingly based on Dante's haircut and the fact that (gasp!) it doesn't play like games from the early 2000's. A shame, because it's easily one of the best gaming experiences I've had this year, if not in several. It's a bold new take on the franchise, from talented developer Ninja Theory (Heavenly Sword, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West), which takes everything players thought they knew about Dante and turns it on its head. The writing turns the cocky swordsman into more than a walking, one-liner-spewing cliche, and does an admirable job of turning him into a likable character with a surprising amount of pathos. This is amid a story that is a brutal takedown of contemporary American culture, a risky move in an industry that rewards the jingoistic repetition of Call of Duty and Battlefield. Topped off with blistering action gameplay that was tailored to individual players' playstyle, DmC: Devil May Cry was one of the most fresh and fierce titles to come out of 2013.

4. Super Mario 3D World (Wii U)

Ironic that Super Mario 3D World is one word away from what many consider to be the greatest 2D Mario game, as this might be the finest 3D entry in the series to date. The format that the franchise hinged upon was starting to get a bit stale, with the borderline offensively simple New Super Mario Bros. 2 and the solid but forgettable New Super Mario Bros U. But leave it to Nintendo up the ante by a million much like they did with the wonderful Galaxy sub-series. 3D World is ludicrously, unbelievably fun, with beautiful graphics that take full advantage of the Wii U's capabilities and gameplay that is as innovative as it is challenging and surprising. Quite simply, it's one of the most purely original games to come out of any publisher in quite some time, and it's one of the growing list of reasons to own Nintendo's latest home console. This is the one title on this list that's part of the eighth generation of consoles, and there's good reason for that: it's the only one that truly feels like it deserves to be called "next-gen."

3. Tomb Raider (360/PS3/PC)

The reboot of Tomb Raider was met with an entirely negative reaction... by me. By my own admission, I was ridiculously biased against the new look of Lara, and the direction Crystal Dynamics was taking with the gameplay. And the rape controversy surrounding the initial trailers didn't help one bit. Still, as a massive fan of the series, I was going to play this day one whether it was shitty or not. Let's just say I've never been so happy to be wrong about a game before, because the iconic heroine's latest journey into a strange land was compelling from start to finish. Like she was aboard a roller coaster of bloody chaos, Croft ziplines across deadly chasms, wades in rivers of blood, stealthily impales enemies with arrows, and countless other thrilling things at a relentless pace, all while coming into her own as an independent, fearless protagonist. Tied together with arguably the best story in series history, and you've got one hell of a game.

2. Tearaway (Vita)

Before Tearaway came out, I had already owned a PS Vita and sold it quite some time before. But seeing the universally positive reaction this game was receiving, it made me one slap on right on my Christmas list and hope for the best. Thankfully, I got one and played through of Media Molecule's quirky hit, enthralled by every second of it. Aside from the clever platforming and ingenious usage of the Vita's mechanics, there's something deeper at work going on here. The subtle, clever narrative, following the cute little envelope/creature/thing Atoi, is a searing indictment of what's wrong with the game industry. It encourages players to push for more creativity in their entertainment, and to have more imagination with their expectations from virtual worlds, not to settle for being fed the same tripe over and over again, year after year. Quite frankly, Tearaway does things I had no clue video games were capable of, and is only really offset by its short length. There's nothing out there quite like it, period, and it's a perfectly valid reason to own a Vita.

1. The Last of Us (PS3)

If Tearaway is a suggestion to have more originality in the gaming industry, and Bioshock Infinite along with Tomb Raider are suggestions on how to portray women in games, then The Last of Us is realization of those ideas. From start to finish, this game one-ups everything else put out this year in terms of narrative, gameplay, and originality. It is also an incredible laundry list of firsts. The first video game apocalypse that feels plausible, the first younger female character that isn't mollycoddled into being a damsel in distress, the first game to successfully force players not to treat a protagonist as a personal stand-in... the list goes on. Above all of that, beyond all of the horror and heartbreak players will encounter, it's also a damn fun game, with brilliant enemy AI, varied gameplay, and a nod to the survival horror games of old. The Last of Us is thrilling and emotional, riveting up until its very last second. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why it is my personal Best Game of 2013.

Thoughts? Complaints? Compliments? Leave 'em all below, and thanks for reading!


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