One of the darkest titles I've ever played, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor thrusts a demonic hand into the player's soul, confronting them with uncomfortable situations and decisions no one should have to make. Hoisting players into an apocalyptic Tokyo, Atlus expertly examines human psychology in a catastrophic situation. Initially, people are afraid, in denial, and show the early signs of panic. As the days continue, people quickly turn on each other, fight for resources, organize gangs, and feed off of the weak. This may sound obvious, but the timing and way in which Atlus conveys this crumbling of society feels authentic. Combine the morose mood with a soundtrack that makes one feel isolated or enmeshed in cataclysmic battle, and you have yourself one hell of an atmospheric Strategy RPG. Not to mention that the gameplay carries with it depth and customization matched only by — well, we'll get there.
The World Ends With You is, quite possibly, the most stylish game ever made. I have never experienced a title more slathered in atmosphere. Yet, the entire premise is in discord. While the soundtrack, emphasis on fashion, and personalities of the characters are all incredibly upbeat, the protagonists are literally on a time limit to fight for their lives in this realm between life and death. In the meantime, our heroes battle against "noise," creatures that the living can't sense, but still impacts their behavior — a fascinating concept! To do so, players control a character in both the top and bottom screen of their DS, using "pins" to attack the noise. The stylus controls the bottom character while the top character uses the DS's control pad and more. One might view these controls as unnecessarily obtuse, but the frantic nature of combat makes every single battle engrossing and plain, old fun. All of this is tied together by TWEWY's unique soundtrack. Primarily composed of head-bobbing tunes and odd lyrics, Square-Enix took a chance with this hip assortment of tracks, but gee willikers am I glad they did. My biggest takeaway? I need more candy cane.
I strive to be as objective as possible in everything I do at RPGFan. Putting bias aside, I will drop the score of a game I love if I know it won't appeal to the masses or if it has a flaw others just can't forgive. Final Fantasy VII at #3 on my list is my egregious offense in subjectivity. While I strongly feel that my other placements earned their spots objectively, FFVII, an admittedly heavily flawed title, arrived at a time in my life when I needed it most. However, that isn't to say it doesn't have its strengths. The convoluted, confusing story contains raw, visceral emotion throughout its otherwise abstract concepts and odd history. These brutal exercises in cruelty are marinated in what I consider to be Nobuo Uematsu's best work. I have likely spent hundreds, if not more than a thousand, hours just listening to FFVII's soundtrack. Uematsu has helped me get through some tough times, but he couldn't have done it without the adventure Square gave us back in 1997.
I fought against playing Dragon Age: Origins for a long time after being burned by one Western RPG after another. Whatever it is about WRPGs' design — be it the excessively open world, samey art direction, or D&D reliant design — I simply cannot get into them. DA:O stripped me of this prejudice, helping me to realize that a good game is a good game is a good game. One of the longest modern RPGs, DA:O felt only half as long as it was while offering full character development and a world that belongs in novels. In fact, David Gaider's books accentuate DA:O seamlessly. Even without reading the books, though, DA:O marries a tale of sacrifice and hope into a meaty mythos that stuck to my ribs. Even years after playing, I distinctly recall my journey and its details through this 60-hour adventure. Although the gameplay is heavily reliant on D&D-style mechanics, the depth and strategy offer an initially steep, yet satisfying, learning curve. If only all WRPGs were so finely crafted.
One of the first Strategy RPGs ever created, no other game has compared to its near-perfect game design, story, or presentation. Simply put, FFTactics has it all. Deep, engrossing gameplay bearing robust customization? Nailed it. Central, secondary, and even tertiary characters that withstand the test of time, whose lives symbolize the plight and ambition of history's lauded and infamous? Daunting. A soundtrack almost entirely comprised of combat music, all of which are not only memorable, but distinctly representative of their origin battles? Antipyretic'd. The beauty of Tactics is that these high quality components are woven into an experience that makes a case for video games as art. Arguments between Ramza and enemy set the stage for the ensuing battle in which the player must calculate and strategize, and after which the outcome furthers the story, matched with potentially heart-wrenching music. This medium not only serves to entertain and tell a timeless tale, but it teaches about history, political influence, and why good people turn bad. Or are they bad? Maybe the victor decides. All of this has cemented the vibe and mood of Ivalice, Matsuno's beautiful and comatose creation. Your adoring fans are awaiting your triumphant return, Matsuno-sama. Thank you.