It’s the last day of the year, and I find myself looking back over the last 364 days wondering where it all went. Initially I began thinking about all the historical events that happened, the volcanic eruption in Iceland, the rescue of the Chilean miners, but then my mind started to ponder the games I’ve played this year. Naturally I thought about the greatest moments I’ve spent in RPGs, and the great games that gave me these memories. To that end, I present to you my best RPGs of 2010.
I think a small bit of explanation is in order before we proceed however. This is Mandifesto’s list. These may not have been your favorite games this year, but they were mine. Keep in mind that Mandifesto is a story-centric female North American gamer. The way I connect with games is probably different than how others connect with them. If you disagree with any of the below, I would love to hear your opinions in the comments. I’ll be counting down my picks of the ten best RPGs from 2010 in two parts, starting with those at the bottom of my list and counting down. We start, therefore, with number ten.
Number 10: Final Fantasy XIII
Final Fantasy XIII was at the top of my most anticipated RPG list when 2010 started. I did a little dance right in the store the day I picked up my copy, that’s how excited I was to play this game. Much like that gorgeous guy you crush on in class who ends up to be a total moron, Final Fantasy XIII did not live up to the dream. Why, you might ask would I put a flawed game up on the top RPGs list then? Simply put, there was a lot of flaw coming out of our genre this year, but it doesn’t mean that there isn’t merit in these RPGs.
Final Fantasy XIII beat me over the head with saccharine storytelling and meaningless personal stories that not even the characters themselves felt interested in. But I did like the ATB system a lot, and the graphics were gorgeous. This was one of those games that I wanted to love so desperately, but in the end failed me to the point that I never did finish playing. It sits on my shelf to this day, discarded like a half read novel, put aside in favor of more enjoyable games – most of which are on this very list.
Number 9: Castelvania: Lord of Shadows
What do crosses used as weapons, huge talking horses and Jean Luc Pickard have to do with each other? Naturally they are all elements in Castlevania: Lord of Shadows, the first foray into the Action RPG genre from Kojima Productions. Gabriel does bear a striking resemblance to Solid Snake now that I think about it. While not the greatest time I’ve spent with an RPG, LoS did deliver in the epic fights department, allowing lovers of the frenetic gameplay of Devil May Cry entry into the world of the Action RPG.
It’s no secret that this is my favorite sub genre of RPG, and Lord of Shadows provides an immersive Action RPG experience like no other. It’s hard, killer hard, hard enough to keep you on the seat of your chair and yelling obscenities at the screen each time you die -- then reload and come back for more. I wasn’t the greatest fan of this game’s story, though. It’s a little heavy-handed in places, vague in others, and just plain confusing in parts. I found myself incredibly annoyed with the pretentious narration, something your subjected to at the beginning of each stage. Still, it’s a great game, and once it finished I couldn’t help but jump on message boards to read about what other gamers thought about the ending. The story couldn’t be that weak if it had me thinking about it for days afterward and discussing it with my friends.
For those of you out there that are Castlevania aficionados, this game represents an alternate telling of the genre’s main storyline. Gabriel is a new character chosen out of a holy order of knights called the Brotherhood to save the world from the machinations of the three Lords of Shadow. Defeating them takes you through a dozen lands, each more somber and grueling than the last, in hopes of reuniting Gabriel with his lost love. Yes he’s called Belmont, but his place within the lineage is still in question, and something you will have to delve deeper into by playing the game for yourself.
Number 8: Fable III
There was no bigger fan of Fable II than I, and even though I expected great things and hoped this would be the RPG of the year, sadly I was disappointed. This is one of those games I feel that Lionhead should have let stew a little longer on the stove before sending it on out to the dining room, if you catch my drift. Laden with glitches and bugs and a storyline that just STOPS suddenly just as it gets going, Fable III still ranks among the best of the RPGs for 2010.
Why is that? Well, this is a game that entertains just as much as it annoys. While most of my conclusions about the brilliance of the meta game in Fable II turned out to be completely missing from Fable III, it still remains satisfying to play through an Albion entering into an Industrial age, rising from unknown royal to King (or in my case Queen) of the realm. The story twists were also fairly satisfying, such that if this were a novel, I would have finished the reading of it glad I bought the book. What I liked best about Fable III was its Steampunk motif, with the game’s style blending the fantasy and the Industrial into a pretty successful amalgam.
I do think the game lacks in the very department that was its supposed greatest strength: Its morality system. The hallmark of the Fable franchise, and even to a larger extent the entire body of Molyneux’s work, is the ideas that the choices we make affect the world around us. Lionhead pioneered the idea of story decisions having consequence, but they have not really innovated beyond their original formula. This sticks out like a sore thumb when compared to how other developer’s handle the decision/consequence continuum – games like Mass Effect and The Witcher immediately come to mind. In playing Fable III I found myself wishing that my decisions mattered more. There is no room for the gray area in Albion it seems, and we don’t relate to things in life in terms of black and white.
Number 7: Darksiders
If you haven’t played Darksiders and you’re at all a fan of RPG game mechanics, you’re missing out. This game released at the beginning of 2010, and subsequently stole three months of our gaming lives with its addictive gameplay, fascinating (if a little dark for the kiddies) storyline and all around quality. In Darksiders you play War, one of the horsemen of the apocalypse. Things don’t go all that well for War, when he’s accused of breaking the truce between Heaven and Hell that unleashes all sorts of evil onto Earth. To clear your name you’ll have to travel across demon infested lands to confront the real perpetrator of the crime, cutting a swath through his minions in your path to redemption.
It’s bloody, it’s beautiful, and it’s brilliant. While I don’t recommend this for the younger gamers in the audience (or those with weak stomachs), Darksiders does master the art of borrowing from other RPGs. The game plays like a combination of ten or twelve different games, and it shouldn’t work, but it does. Drawing inspiration from games like Legend of Zelda, God of War, and Portal just to name a few, Darksiders wraps all these various mechanics in a neat little Action RPG package and then impales them on a spike of badassness (if that’s not a word, it should be).
Number 6: Deathspank
The small independent RPG is slowly gaining a foothold in today’s market, due in large part to the prevalence of Xbox Live Marketplace. With a little ingenuity and a lot of time a small developer can create beautiful things – and sometimes hilarious things. Deathspank is definitely an example of the latter. In this little hack and slash RPG, you play Deathspank, a 2D hero with dreams of grandeur and an odd fashion sense, out to make a name for himself in a world infested with all manner of nasty beasties. And Vikings. And pirates. And ninjas. Did I mention how awesome this game is?
While the game itself is fantastic, it gets extra points for its 2 person co-op mode, which allows your friends to jump in and play a second character helping Deathspank fight evil “For Justice!” More games should allow for partner play, in my opinion, and those that do won’t be able to match the sheer brilliance that Deathspank and its outrageous comedy has to offer. Deathspank offers beautiful stylized game art, innovative level design and smooth gameplay, all for the small price of $15.00 on Xbox Live Arcade.
After looking over the first half of this list, I realize it’s quite a lot of reading. Therefore I’m going to break this into two pieces to save your eyes and a bit of my sanity – what’s left of it. Look for the second part soon.