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#5 Atelier Meruru – PS3
The final installment in the Arland trilogy had some big shoes to fill. Atelier Totori was my favorite game of last year, and perhaps my favorite Atelier game of all time. The new installment added a town-building aspect that made the game very enjoyable, but the story was not quite as compelling as Totori, and I didn’t feel the same level of development was given to Meruru’s character. That being said, the game was still an immensely fun experience; it just had the misfortune of following a powerhouse. The art and music for the game were both as fantastic as ever, and the crafting system is highly addictive. I can’t wait to see what Atelier Ayesha brings.
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#4 Final Fantasy XIII-2 – PS3
Final Fantasy XIII-2 was met with uncertainty by much of the JRPG community. After Final Fantasy XIII was given a lukewarm reception by a number of JRPG traditionalists, many questioned if the game even deserved a sequel. However, Square Enix rolled right along with their plans, and I, for one, am happy about it, even if Metacritic actually shows a lower score for the sequel. While the storytelling was not quite as good, Final Fantasy XIII-2 kept the same beautiful graphics and offered more exploration than the original. The battle system received a few tweaks for the better as well, and I enjoyed having a monster join you in the fight. Was this the best Final Fantasy title? No, but was still a pretty good one.
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#3 Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy – 3DS
What do you get when you cross a rhythm game with a 25-year-old RPG series? A lot of fun, apparently. Theatrhythm may not be the most beautiful name, but that does not detract from the title’s great music selection and addictive gameplay. Many times, I would pick up the game in order to get my daily bonus only to find that I had suddenly lost an hour or so of my day. While the gameplay is relatively simple on its surface (tap, swipe and hold), the soundtrack and ability to create parties spanning the whole main series makes the game a time sink. The multiplayer aspect of the game via the Dark Note system can also be fun as long as you’re not easily distracted by the other people’s tapping.
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#2 Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward – 3DS
Virtue’s Last Reward, the sequel to 999, is a well-written and incredibly fun visual novel. The game mixes puzzles into the story, and while most of the puzzles aren’t terribly taxing, there are a few thought provoking ones. However, most of this game’s greatness comes from how it tells its story. You learn fragments here and there as you jump between timelines that come together in a great climax. Unfortunately, the game does have a few minor glitches (and one major one that I managed to avoid, apparently), but the way Virtue’s Last Reward tells its story leaves you with the feeling that the next game can’t come soon enough.
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#1 Journey – PS3
There was no contest on this one. Journey is not just the best game of the year, it is perhaps the most beautiful experience I’ve ever had in a game. The graphics and music create a fantastic world for you to explore. The game’s ability to provide a tutorial and a complete, emotionally evocative story without ever uttering one word is amazing. I was fortunate enough on my first playthrough to stick with the same player throughout, and we managed to create a communication system through a series of note taps, but even without that communication, the game does a great job of making you connect with each other. While you can finish the game alone, working together makes it both easier and more enjoyable as your characters charge each others scarves (which allow you to jump and float) by being in contact. When someone misses a jump or slips back down a slope, you want to go back and help them so you can finish together. So many video games work on the principles of competition and becoming the singular best, but Journey does the exact opposite, and it’s a truly humbling experience.
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