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Editor's Top 5 - RPGFan's Games of 2004

Welcome to RPGFan's Games of 2004 feature. Things are happening a bit differently this year than they have in years past. We still have a few editors who have submitted Top 5 lists, but in lieu of a total top 10, we have just three categories: Best Import RPG, Best Console RPG, and best Computer RPG. We know it's a stretch on a year with so many good RPGs, but much of the non-review staff didn't play five RPGs in 2004. That, combined with the consolidation of much of the non-reviews staff contributes to less individual lists this year. So send off hate-mail to your favorite editor who doesn't have a list and let them know they need to play more!

That being said, check out each editor's top 5 RPGs of the year (plus Non-RPG Top Picks) and the Games of the Year list by using the navigation above.

Lee Babin Rob Bogdanowicz Tim Duong
Woojin Lee Ryan Mattich John McCarroll
Mike Salbato

Lee Babin's Top Picks

1) Tales of Symphonia (GCN) -Being a Tales fan has not always been easy. Before Tales of Symphonia, the Tales series was popular in Japan yet somewhat obscure here in North America. ToS changed all that by combining classic story telling with an exciting, in-depth battle engine, colorful, fun graphics and wonderful music that catapults it to the top RPG spot on my 2004 list.

2) Star Ocean: Till the End of Time (PS2) - Star Ocean 3 astounded me in a variety of ways. Its sci-fi meets fantasy storyline bogged down at times but eventually came through for me at the end. SO3's music engulfed me with its haunting, symphonic feel and its battle engine kept me going throughout my 70 hour experience. These aspects formed together to bring an astounding 2004 experience.

3) Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories (GBA) - While something of an anomaly due to its wildly changed, card-based gameplay and branching storylines, CoM somehow managed to come across as the most addictive and fun experience I had on a handheld system this year. A worthy sequel to an inventive, quirky original and a show piece for what the tiny Gameboy Advance is truly capable of.

4) La Pucelle Tactics (PS2) - Nippon Ichi knows what makes an entertaining strategy RPG. Combine an engrossing story with some of the most delicious two-dimensional sprites I have ever witnessed and then top it off with some of the most polished SRPG gameplay around and you have the recipe for a winner.

5) Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles (GCN) - While Crystal Chronicles may not contain the most in-depth storyline or bring the highest caliber fighting engine to the table, with the right amount of equipment and the ideal partners for playing, CC suddenly becomes an excursion in greatness. The four-player concept is used to its fullest, allowing for combination moves, in-depth battle tactics and all around good fun. A sleeper of a game for those who can afford the necessary gear.

Non-RPG Top Picks
Sadly, I did not get to play many non-RPGs this year. Were it not for the expenses involved in getting married, I may very well have played through Metal Gear Solid 3, Metroid Prime 2 and Katamari Damacy.

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Rob Bogdanowicz's Top Picks

1) Final Fantasy XI: Chains of Promathia (PC/Mac) - Still as addicting as ever, Chains of Promathia features the most engrossing plot FFXI has seen coupled with a few new updates to make the experience that much smoother. It's much more accessable to the casual FFXI player, unlike the Zilart expansion, and furthers the experience of Vana'diel.

2) Star Ocean: Till the End of Time (PS2) - Despite rather sluggish plot progression, Star Ocean 3 has superb presentation, a memorable cast of characters, and an engrossing battle system. It's just fun to play, and that's a rarity in this genre.

3) Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne (PS2) - The SMT series has always been bold, stylish, and everything you wouldn't expect from a console RPG. Utilizing the traditional battle/demon persuasion system seen before, Nocturne also features one of the darkest, eeriest plots I've witnessed in a console RPG. It's very different from anything else released this year, and that's a good thing

4) Baten Kaitos (GCN) - I'd be the first to blast a card game - hell, I've done it before. But somehow Baten Kaitos does it right. The graphics are something to gawk at, the soundtrack an aural treat, and the combination of traditional console RPG gameplay with the "card" aspect makes for a refreshing experience. I'll eat my words about card-based games for now.

5) Tales of Symphonia (GCN) - To be honest, I've never been a fan of the Tales series. The only one previous to this sequel to catch my eye was Tales of Phantasia; the rest I found to be humdrum, forgettable titles. Surprisingly this GCN sequel pushes past the mediocrity of its predecessors and offers a fresh, engrossing tale with some enjoyable gameplay.

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Tim Duong's Top Picks

1) World of Warcraft (PC/Mac) - Let's face it. I'm an MMORPG fanatic. There's rarely an MMORPG out there that I won't play. But, I don't enjoy nearly enough of them to justify my fanboyism. But then Blizzard slaps their style and casual gameplay down on one and I'm hooked. And let me tell you, after starting over 3 times to play with friends from this site, I still find it fun. This is quite possibly the easiest MMORPG to get into. From quick and enjoyable battles, to an endless chain of quests that give experience, there's always something to do.

2) Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne (PS2) - I was never big on the Persona series on the PSOne. In fact, I only discovered it because of certain members of the staff and board. But when I picked up Nocturne, I fell in love with the original flavour this RPG brought to the table. A beautiful blend of darkness, story and character. Best PS2 RPG of 2004, hands down. Did I mention Dante is in it? He's a devil slayer, and this game is infested with devils. Come on, you know you want to see Dante.

3) Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2 (Xbox) - I had my doubts about this one. Out of Bioware's hands and into the crew of Black Isles, under the new name Obsidian Entertainment, I didn't know what to expect. But those guys proved that they can take a success and not fumble. Though the game was made much easier and the story is nowhere near the epic of the first game, this is still a wonderful sequel and that's hard to do. I wonder if Lucas touched this one? I wouldn't doubt it *sigh*

4) Front Mission 4 (PS2) - SRPGs take a serious turn this year with Front Mission 4. A perfect blend of grand story and epic customization, this is a strategist's dream come true. In every way that Armored Core is good, this game takes it to heart. Very few SRPGs can come close to how engrossing this game can be, but it isn't for the timid.

5) Star Ocean: Till the End of Time (PS2) - One of the most fun I've had in with a battle system in a long time. This is better than it's predecessor in every single aspect. Though some of the voice acting and the story does leave a bit to be desired, the whole out shines the minor flaws.

Non-RPG Top Picks
Halo 2 (Xbox) ESPN NFL 2K5 (Multiplatform) Need For Speed Underground 2 (Multiplatform) Ace Combat 5 (PS2) Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (PS2)

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Woojin Lee's Top Picks

1) Dragon Quest VIII (Import PS2) - People in the US never quite got what the big deal was with Dragon Quest in Japan: the huge lines to buy the game on the first day, the tons of missed workdays, and the cultural significance it has in Japan. Well here is a game that justifies that devotion. Old school RPGs have never been as fun and immersive as DQVIII and it's a beautiful game to behold to boot!

2) Fate/Stay Night (Import PC) - Boasting one of the best storylines in a game ever, this RPG-themed adventure game asks a new question: Is the self sacrifice needed to become a hero worth it? Typemoon has outdone themselves in their first release as a professional company. Fans of their previous masterpiece, Tsukihime, is sure to enjoy their newest game...provided they can read it all in Japanese.

3) Rance VII (Import PC) - The first full featured Rance game in almost a decade doesn't dissapoint. Boasting a huge gameworld, tons of unique characters, and a darker storyline that isn't quite console-safe makes for one of the best RPG experiences of 2004. Now all we need is Kichiku Ou Rance II...

4) Super Robot Wars MX (Import PS2) - Another year, another Super Robot Wars game. This time, the story takes a back seat to beefed up animations, but there is no denying that there is a solid game engine beneath all the Robot jazz. Hopefully Super Robot Wars Alpha 3 will lead the franchise to a new direction. I mean, I can only stand the same cast of robots for so many years...

5) Front Mission 4 (PS2) - The only game that I played in Japanese that came out in the US around the same time. I was pleasantly surprised to find the scale of the battles increased to Front Mission II's size while not sacrificing the faster loading times. Although there's less replay value in this one, I particularily enjoyed how the two seperate teams operated in totally different ways due to their different Wanzer loadout.

Non-RPG Top Picks
1) Half-Life 2 (PC) - It lived up to the hype. Who would've figured?
2) Rome: Total War (PC) - Great battle engine and the strategic elements are now serviceable. Seeing thousands of men marching to death always brings a tear to my eye...
3) Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (PS2) - Sure, it plays a lot differently, but that story! The action! The sneaking!

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Ryan Mattich's Top Picks

1) Dragon Quest VIII (Import PS2) - Square Enix has managed to go above and beyond all expectations. Arguably, Dragon Quest VIII has made the most competent transition from old-school origins to new-school splendor in the entire history of the gaming industry. From the gorgeous cel-shaded graphics to the classic sound effects nestled comfortably in the magnificent musical score, Dragon Quest VIII has something for seasoned veterans as well as relative newcomers to the series. Offering gamers a unique and epic experience like none other, the latest installment of the Dragon Quest series stands not only as heir to a prestigious line of role-playing games, but as a testament to high quality in design and presentation. Absolute perfection in every sense of the word.
Domestic Release: TBA.

2) Stella Deus (Import PS2) - 'Stella Deus' and 'Hoshigami' can both be translated as 'Star Gods,' revealing an interesting connection between the two titles. Developer Pinegrow, formerly known as Maxfive, has apparently learned their lesson. Thankfully enough, Stella Deus suffers from none of the problems encountered in Hoshigami: Ruining Blue Earth (PSX), such as the incredibly unbalanced difficulty level. This is the best Strategy RPG since Final Fantasy Tactics, hands down. For those who have grown weary of Nippon Ichi's twist on the traditional 'Strategy RPG Recipe,' Stella Deus offers a generous helping of classic gameplay, garnished with a deep and philosophical storyline. Bon appetit!
Domestic Release: Summer 2005.

3) Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana (Import PS2) - The sixth installment in a popular line of alchemy-based simulation titles, Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana features an amazing graphical presentation accompanied by one of the most original soundtracks of the year. With fully interactive environments, item synthesis, and the most charming cast of characters since Lunar: Silver Star Story and Lunar 2: Eternal Blue, Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana has earned its place among the 'Best of 2004.' Oh, did I mention that it's being released here? Who would have thought?
Domestic Release: Spring 2005.

4) Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gun und Bose (Import PS2) - Don't worry, Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Bose doesn't suffer from the lackluster gameplay, lack of background music, and endless cutscenes which left many gamers disappointed after playing through the first installment. For those with a bitter taste in their mouths, come on... give it another try! Tetsuya Takahashi's brilliant storyline is worth the price of admission alone, while the redesigned battle system and bonus dungeons will keep even the most hardcore coming back for more.
Domestic Release: February 2005.

5) World of Warcraft (PC/Mac) -In August 2004, Aeliana (60 PLD) retired from the world of Vana'diel, Final Fantasy XI. Despite my passion for the game, the level of time commitment required wasn't something a college student with a double major and a part-time job could handle any longer. Although I had my reservations, Blizzard's managed to seduce me back into the 'MMORPG Universe' with World of Warcraft, an online game which manages to do most everything right. I'm always able to feel a profound sense of accomplishment after playing, and there's no need to sit around for hours waiting for a group. Although I've been fairly disappointed with the amount of unexpected downtime due to server issues, things can only get better from here... right?

Non-RPG Top Picks
Katamari Damacy (PS2)

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John McCarroll's Top Picks

1) World of Warcraft (PC/Mac) - I'd like to make a note; I played Final Fantasy XI for a good chunk of the year, from June to October. You'll note that it makes no mention on my list. Although FFXI is engaging, I never had any fun playing the game. World of Warcraft is the Antithesis of FFXI. Whereas FFXI is super-hardcore, but wasn't entertaining to me, WoW is easy to get into for the casual player and a blast to play. World of Warcraft isn't just the best RPG this year -- It's quite possibly the game that makes people think that maybe this Evercrack stuff isn't just for geeks.

2) Star Ocean: Till the End of Time (PS2) - The sequel to one of my favorite PSOne games, Tri-Ace and Square-Enix's Star Ocean: Till the End of Time is a sequel that provides everything the original did. More geared toward hardcore RPG fans, Star Ocean featured a deep item creation system and an amazing real-time combat system. A must have for hardcore RPG playing PS2 owners.

3) Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne (PS2) - The first game in the cardinal Shin Megami Tensei (MegaTen) series to hit the US, MegaTen 3: Nocturne is an amazing game that allows players to negotiate with demons to work with them as well as merge these demons in order to create more poweful monsters. The interesting shading style as well as the unique view of the entire game makes this one of the best PS2 games in years.

4) Tales of Symphonia (GCN) - I'd previously never played any of Namco's Tales games, but the hype surrounding this game just brought me in. With a fun real-time battle system and excellent voice acting, Tales of Symphonia may very well be the finest RPG on the GameCube.

5) Pocket Kingdom: 0wn the w0rld (N-Gage) - You may already be writing hate mail to me to tell me that I'm crazy for having an N-Gage game on my list. Pocket Kingdom is a fine game. Designed to be played for 15 minutes at a time, this cell phone MMORPG/strategy hybrid is, beyond anything else, fun to play. If you own an N-Gage or were on the fence, this game makes it all worthwhile.

Non-RPG Top Picks
1) Katamari Damacy (PS2)
2) Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow (Multiplatform)
3) Halo 2 (Xbox)
4) Counter-Strike: Source (PC)
5) Burnout 3: Takedown (Multiplatform)

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Mike Salbato's Top Picks

1) Star Ocean: Till the End of Time (PS2) - This one only took what, two years? While it seemed like twice that, the end result was worth it. Not only did we get the improved version of the game, but also a snazzy package to boot. While not boasting the most original plot, what's there is done well, and the battle system is so great, it makes up for any other shortcomings. Item creation, if you hope to get anything in specific, is near impossible without a guide, so I'm glad I had one. The locales are all nice, though I wish we saw more of the modern worlds and less of the standard medieval stuff, because the sci-fi designs out of tri-Ace are jaw-dropping. All in all, the most solid RPG I played this year - and exactly how I was expecting to feel about it for the last few years.

2) Drakengard (PS2) - Drakengard seemed like it took an eternity to arrive. I played this and SO3 at E3 2003, knowing it would be a year or so before the final game. Drakengard was by far the harder wait, because the mixture of Panzer Dragoon-style flying sequences (with an incredible - and also PD-inspired - special attack) and Dynasty Warriors melee combat was great fun. Leveling up weapons to get new abilities sapped a lot of my time, and the story was also really interesting, if not really screwed up. It's a shame that of the game's five endings, the plot gets progressively stupider, ending in the stupidest way imaginable (if you know anime, think of Evangelion's ending). I've never seen anything so horribly stupid, if not offensive. Just stop playing after ending #2 and you'll be good.

3) NES Classics: The Legend of Zelda (GBA) - This may not really belong, but I couldn't help but add it. Rumored for release on the Game Boy Color -YEARS- ago, I was glad to finally see the original Zelda in portable format - plus it saves me the trouble of digging through boxes to bust out the NES. It's exactly like before. No bells, no whistles, and while a second mode with enhanced (think SNES) graphics would have been great, it doesn't need it. This is the game that started it all, and impossible second quest aside (how did I finish this as a kid?), it's still fully playable.

4) Mega Man X: Command Mission (Multiplatform) - It's no secret that even fans of Mega Man X have been shunning the series after the horrible X6 and sent-from-hell X7. What many don't know is why this quality drop happened, and it's because the series creator intended to end the story at part 5. So what happens when you continue a series without the person in charge? You get X6 and X7. Thankfully, he took the helm of Command Mission, putting arguably the best cast in the Mega Man universe in a great new setting. It does literally nothing new for the genre, and is strictly by-the-books turn-based, but it's at least done right, and MMX fans will enjoy seeing these people in a good (and good-looking, for once) 3D title.

5) Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles (GCN) - The subject of a lot of... well, whining, FF:CC did what it set out to do. It was never meant to be an epic single player FF along the lines of the numbered series. It did its own thing, and while it required a bit more hardware than your standard game, honestly... look at how many GBAs are out there. More people own them than GameCubes. If you had the equipment and a friend or two - or three - to play with, Crystal Chronicles proved to be a great deal of fun. Yes, fun. Not a life-altering experience with characters deeper than the deepest well, or a story that touches the humanity in the soul of all who play it, much to the chargin of many 'elitists', but simply a fun game to play with friends. Isn't that what it's about anyway?

Just to note: A lack of time has kept me from playing either Tales of Symphonia or Baten Kaitos, so far. You'd likely see at least one of them on this list, otherwise.

Non-RPG Top Picks
1) Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (GCN) - It's funny. We wait eight years for a new Metroid, and we get two of them. Then, not two years later, another pair of them comes out. Yet, the quality never drops. Best of 2004 hands-down.
2) Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (PS2) - I had my doubts about MGS3 after... well, Raiden. I'm glad to say that it far surpassed my expectations, came through nearly without flaw, tied up the (so far) trilogy and even lasted a long time (20+ hours). Well done Kojima. Now stop making card games!
3) Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes (GCN) - So, take the first and best of the two MGS titles and improve on the only aspect that didn't stand the test of time, and you get near perfection. "Near" because some of the stunts were too over-the-top, and while 99% of the script was the same, the 1% that got cut had some good lines. As far as remakes go though, it doesn't get much better than this.
4) Otogi 2: Immortal Warriors (Xbox) - I feel like part of a very select few who know the marvels of this great series. Otogi 2 is better than the original in every way, and for me, has replaced Devil May Cry as the new standard for action games. A lofty goal, to be sure.
5) Super Mario 64 DS (DS) - It's Mario 64, but better. Sure, there's 30 more stars, which is cool, but the big draw here is the 40 or so new mini-games that you can unlock. From the simple and mundane (memory!) to the expected (pinball) to some truly unique (drawing trampolines mid-air to propel 1-4 Marios through flying rings for a high score), they're incredibly addicting and worth the price of the game alone.

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