Welcome to RPGFan's Games of 2005 feature. We think we've found a system that we like with the way our staff setup has changed. We're keeping our individual top 5 lists and the point system for one title - RPG of the Year. For the rest of the games, we've decided to switch to a pure vote-based system per category. I think you all will be very surprised, as we've expanded the categories quite a bit this year.
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.
Also to be noted is the fact that Kingdom Hearts II and Front Mission 5 were not considered in this list. As both arrived less than 10 days before the end of the year, KH2 on the 22nd and FM5 on the 29th, our staff members did not have the time to fully appreciate these import titles. Look forward to seeing them on next year's list, but, without further ado, 2005's Games of the Year await.
|Neal Chandran's Top Picks|
1) Atelier Iris ~Eternal Mana~ (PS2) - This RPG is as good as 2D gets. Large, detailed sprites that don't get pixilated during close-ups. Lovely hand-drawn environments. Appealing character and monster designs. Yep, I definitely get the warm fuzzies looking at this game. But Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana is more than just a pretty face. The music is excellent. You can choose whether you want Japanese or English voice acting. The gameplay is involved but highly addicting. The characters, including shopkeepers, are very well developed and all have interesting backstories. Yep, this game is certainly a total package.
2) Ever 17 (PC) - KiD's Infinity series, which includes Never 7, offers a fresh take on the love adventure genre with often intellectually stimulating storylines. I'm not sure how much I can call Ever 17 a "love" adventure, but it certainly is a compelling adventure with appealing visuals, great music, top-notch voice work, a riveting storyline with multiple endings, awesome characters and great writing. Some of the conversations between your chosen protagonist and other cast members are extremely deep and I'm always a sucker for philosophy. The moment I completed the game once, I immediately fired it up again and plan to go for a third ending. That kind of desire for immediate replay is rare.
3) Phantom of Inferno (PC) -Before releasing Ever 17 in the US, Hirameki has given US games tastes of other Japanese adventure games. One of which is Phantom of Inferno. Bright and cheery, this game is not, because life as an assassin in an underground crime syndicate is tense and gritty where one wrong move can signal your doom. Despite the young age of our hero, the storyline is very mature and boasts multiple endings, both good and bad. The music and visuals are nicely done as well, but in games like this and Ever 17, it's all about the storyline and the tale woven in Phantom of Inferno is very compelling.
4) Sigma Star Saga (GBA) - Shantae developers WayForward came back with another genre crossing game that harkens back to the shooter-adventure hybrid The Guardian Legend. Sure, there were come gameplay flaws but I still found the game loads of fun and was pleasantly surprised at how good the story was. RPGs and shooters are as disparate as video game genres can get and this was a solid effort to bridge the two. It can only get better from here..
5) Still Life (PC) - The game is short. Some of the puzzles are needlessly wonky or twiddly. The voice acting isn't very good. So what was the striking feature for me in Still Life? The visuals. Sadistic murder scenes with lots of blood and badly bruised corpses that aren't for the faint of heart. Who ever thought blood splatter could be so artistic?
|Patrick Gann's Top Picks|
1) Atelier Iris ~Eternal Mana~ (PS2) - At this point I cannot claim objectivity. I put Atelier Iris at the #1 spot out of pure bias. Gust (the developer of the Atelier series) has absolutely captivated my imagination with their charming characters, awesome music, and the most extensive and unique item-creation system I've ever seen in an RPG. NIS America was also kind enough to offer the option to change from English to Japanese voice acting at any given point in the game through a simple menu option; for fans of the "original experience," this is certainly appreciated. I suspect the only game that will top this experience for me in the near future is its upcoming sequel. Though light on plot, everything else about this game was overwhelming enough for me to give it my top spot for 2005.
2) Ys: The Ark of Napishtim (PS2) -Developed by Falcom, the sixth title in the Ys series was an outstanding experience. The gameplay was challenging and enjoyable, the sword-leveling system was refreshing, the music was outstanding, and the hidden option to enjoy the game with Japanese dialogue, text, and anime cutscenes was much appreciated. And, of course, the beautiful character designs were a plus. Purchasing this game will only bring us one step closer to having "The Oath in Felghana" (a complete remake of Ys III) released in the US, so please do so immediately.
3) Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Bose (PS2) - A lot of people gave up on this series after the first title, namely due to the change in staff. Takahashi (the creator of the scenario) was essentially fired, and the character design and sound teams were replaced. Furthermore, people complained about the complex battle system that left you with lengthy battles and very lengthy boss battles. Well, even with all these changes, the story was still captivating enough for me to put this game in third place for the year. The last two hours of the game have left me begging for Episode III, and if you take the time to play through Episode II, I'm sure you'll feel the same.
4) Romancing SaGa (PS2) - This vote is me at my most objective, because I'd like to put it in the top three. I know that this title did not appeal to every gamer out there, but for me, this game is really something incredible. I have voluntarily completed it four times, and am looking forward to going through it a fifth time. There is truly something new to find every time through, and there are major plot twists that cannot be learned in just one character's playthrough. Furthermore, this game is the most extensive remake of an RPG I have ever seen, and Square Enix did an incredible job with updated graphics, music, and full voice acting.
5) Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (DS) - We Americans are incredibly fortunate to have received such a quirky title from Japan as Phoenix Wright (known in Japan as Gyakuten Saiban). The scenarios are interesting, the dialogue is humorous, and the overall concept of a lawyer simulator is unique enough to be worthy handheld title. It is also worthy of making my top five list.
|Alan Knight's Top Picks|
1) Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (PS2) - There's really nothing more to say here. A top-notch story with a wicked sense of humour, an engaging but easy to learn battle system and fantastic locations and graphics - together with the single best overworld ever in a console RPG - combined with a superb localisation and soundwork.
2) Atelier Iris ~Eternal Mana~ (PS2) - This game wasn't very impressive graphically. It didn't have the best battle system out there. It was occasionally clunky, and the plot wasn't much to speak of. But what Atelier Iris did deliver was fun. Despite all of the shortcomings of the game the play experience added up to an RPG I simply didn't want to put down until it was complete.
3) Dungeon Siege II (PC) - Gosh. What a surprise this was. The first Dungeon Siege was a great romp but a plotless, and ultimately simplistic, experience. Along comes Dungeon Siege 2 which, while retaining that core simplicity behind the system, follows it up with a complete and rewarding plotline, some great scenery, a whole host of things to do and a battle system almost as fun for spectators as players.
4) Wild Arms: Alter Code F (PS2) - Wild Arms was my very first RPG on the PlayStation - more than that, my very first game on the entire system. To say that I was looking forward to this was an understatement, and when it finally game I devoured it gleefully. Sheer and wonderful nostalgia.
5) Jade Empire (Xbox) - I'd been feeling a bit Bioware starved, what with Knights of the Old Republic 2 leaving a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. Jade Empires was a great balm; gung-ho, straight-up action with an RPG feel and action movie pacing. Not their best work but one of the best games around for the XBox to this day.
|Woojin Lee's Top Picks|
1) Super Robot Wars Alpha 3 (Import PS2) - I've never thought that a year would come where I would be awarding top honors to a SRW game (well, this partially has to do with me skipping some of the major Japanese releases this year more than anything else) but SRW@3 really sets the bar for all SRW games. Great story, great cast, great original additions, and the "OMFG its Ideon!!!" factor are enough keep me busy for hours with this game at a time. :)
2) Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (DS) - As a huge fan of the Gyakuten Saiban series (Phoenix Wright's name in Japan) I was so sure that this game was way too quirky to be brought stateside and now I'm happy to find out I was wrong. Here's to hoping future SG games will be ported as well.
3) Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance (GCN) - Glitches aside, Fire Emblem: PoR shows that the Fire Emblem series doesn't have to be on a portable system to be viable. Sure the animations were repetitive and the graphics look dated...but FE has gameplay in spades and the additions made to the classic FE formula made for some interesting games.
4) Fate Hollow Ataraxia (Import PC) - It's odd that my favorite adventure game this year is actually a fan-disc expansion to Fate/Stay Night but the addition of a new storyline that ties up some of the loose ends of the original game and the chance to reunite with some of the old cast made it all worth it.
5) Sakura Taisen V (Import PS2) - To be honest, Sakura Taisen doesn't feel quite the same with an a new cast and the slightly cliched story...but ST V shows that a well polished game can be fun to play even if it does lack the charm of the original.
|Ryan Mattich's Top Picks|
1) Ys: The Oath in Felghana (Import PC) - Pay attention, game developers... Ys: The Oath in Felghana (J-PC) is a remake that is, *gasp*, something more than a straight port w/ a few graphical touch-ups, a broken battle system, and a "bonus dungeon" or two. Rather than cheapening my childhood memories, Nihon Falcom went all-out with this one; "The Oath in Felghana" is a near-flawless resurrection of the "Wanderers From Ys" experience, completely modernized. Utilizing the "Ark of Napishtim" engine, Felghana comes to life with three-dimensional environments, an amazing arranged soundtrack, and completely fresh gameplay. It's obvious that the developers were really inspired by the original game, investing the time, effort, and passion to reconstruct it from the ground up... without cutting corners. The amount of care really shows.
2) Rogue Galaxy (Import PS2) - Dear Level 5, Dark Cloud 2, Dragon Quest VIII, and now Rogue Galaxy... I must say, I'm impressed. Very impressed. Personable characters, beautiful environments, and best of all, an awesome action-based battle system. Jester Rogue can swing swords *and* fire guns, and the complete absence (read: clever concealing) of load times was a welcome surprise. Environments are interactive, and the overall experience looks like a combination of "Skies of Arcadia" and "Star Wars," only without Jar Jar. Excellent work.
3) Grandia III (Import PS2) - I'll be honest... Grandia III was a mild disappointment. GameArts simultaneously developed Grandia III and Lunar Genesis, and unfortunately, the former was "meh," the latter was "extremely bad." Despite the excellent, witty writing, Yuuki's adventure suffered from storyline inconsistencies, unnecessary anachronisms, and other oversights which screamed "rush job" to the hardcore fans. The battle system, however, was excellent. The addition of "Aerial Combos," "Aerial Finishes," and other flight-related touches were solid, and moreover, flying around the world was, in a word, amazing.
4) Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (PS2) - Square Enix has managed to rise 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 recent history of the gaming industry. From the gorgeous cel-shaded graphics to the classic sound effects (a nice contrast to the magnificent musical score), Dragon Quest VIII has something for seasoned veterans and relative newcomers to the series alike.
5) Stella Deus (PS2) - The absolute best Strategy RPG since Final Fantasy Tactics. For those who have become bored with Nippon Ichi's 'twist' on the traditional 'Strategy RPG Recipe,' Stella Deus offers generous portions of classic gameplay, nicely garnished with a morally ambiguous and philosophical storyline. It's good stuff. Bon appetit!
Non-RPG Top Picks
|John McCarroll's Top Picks|
1) Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 1 + 2 (PS2) - Yes, it's two games. No, I don't care. The Digital Devil Saga games really rejuvenated my love for RPGs in a way I never would've expected. With a great premise, excellent dialogue and voice acting, awesome music, and actual difficulty, Digital Devil Saga 1 + 2 have absolutely no peer this year, possibly even this generation.
2) Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (DS) - This is easily the best adventure game I've played in years. While it's a bit linear compared to most of the adventure games for the PC, Phoenix Wright is simply a superbly written title. Here's hoping that Capcom will release the rest of them stateside.
3) Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords (PC) - It's not quite as good as the first game, but Star Wars: KotOR 2 was still a pretty damn fun game for being Obsidian's first run at a game. It was a little buggy, but that's nothing really to worry about.
4) Radiata Stories (PS2) - Radiata Stories is probably the closest that a console RPG has come to really having a world that feels "alive", at least until Oblivion hits the Xbox 360 next year. The battle system may have been a bit stale, but it's humorous while still being serious, and there's not many games that really strive for that anymore.
5) Jade Empire (Xbox) - Let's get something straight: Jade Empire is a pretty crappy BioWare game. That being said, a crappy BioWare game is still a pretty damn fun Action-RPG... even if Cam Clarke sounds the same in every voice he's ever done.
Non-RPG Top Picks
|Daniel Stringer's Top Picks|
1) Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 1 + 2 (PS2) - I honestly don't know what else I can say that I haven't said in the Mailbag a dozen times before. Every few years, an RPG comes along that revitalizes my interest in the genre: this is one such case. These two games, taken as a whole, provide one of the greatest gaming experiences I have ever had the good fortune of partaking in. It's mature without being crass; intelligent without being droll. While the games are as linear as R-Type, and almost as repetitious, they show a remarkable depth in both gameplay and story. I've never experienced its like before, and I doubt I ever will again. I pity anyone who may have missed out on them.
2) Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (PS2) - I've never been a fan of the Dragon Quest games. In fact, the first RPG I ever played was the first game in the series…and many years passed by before I picked up another one. While I readily admit I bought the game for the Final Fantasy XII demo, I quickly became hooked by this saga of cursed kings, diabolical jesters, and murderous canines. More than any RPG in recent memory, Dragon Quest VIII is instilled with a feeling of joy and enthusiasm that I find to be quite infectious. Couple that with the general "old-school" vibe of the battle system and you have a game tailor-made for us old folks who started their gaming careers jumping barrels.
3) Ys: The Oath in Felghana (Import PC) - As a diehard Ys fan since the tender age of nine, I viewed this game with more than a little trepidation when I first heard of it. Nostalgia is a powerful influence on me when it comes to gaming; I don't like to have my memories tampered with. When I heard that a remake of Ys III, one of my all-time favorite games, was in the works, I was quite concerned. I shouldn't have been. I could go on forever about the lovely graphics, the intense combat, and the awe-inspiring music, but I'll keep it short: The Oath in Felghana is the quintessential action RPG of this gaming generation. As good as The Ark of Napishtim is, Oath makes it seem like nothing more than a blueprint. If my complete lack of Japanese skills didn't hinder me, then it probably won't hinder you either. Import it. Now.
4) Castlevania: Curse of Darkness (PS2/Xbox) - While the brains behind Curse of Darkness could still stand to improve their three-dimensional level designs, this game corrects nearly every flaw found in its predecessor, Lament of Innocence. Combat is a pleasure; the variety of death-dealing instruments you have at your disposal make battle immensely entertaining. There's nothing quite like using your rapier to toy with a giant cyclops as your eight foot tall undead samurai servant cuts a swath through a pack of skeletal wolves. Of course, all this reaving and slaughtering is complemented perfectly by one of Michiru Yamane's best OSTs, if not THE best. All in all, this game does an admirable job of translating the Castlevania universe into the third dimension. Any other time, this would have been the best action RPG of the year, but Ys just edges this one out.
5) X-Men Legends 2: Rise of Apocalypse (Multiplatform) - No one was more surprised than me when this game came out of the blue and earned a place in this year's list. While Rise of Apocalypse is little more than your standard hack-and-slash fare on the surface, the sheer fun this title provides makes up for any lack of innovation. Whether it be knocking an opponent to the ground with the power of your mind or smacking them in head with a boulder or ripping them to shreds with your claws, the combat found here is fresh and fast. While it can get repetitive at times, the joy of manhandling your inferior enemies never gets too old. You don't have to be a fan of the comic book series or the movies to enjoy this.
Non-RPG Top Picks
|Damian Thomas' Top Picks|
1) Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (PS2) - Combine excellent overall voice acting with a full symphonic score, Level 5's great cell-shaded graphics, and rock solid Dragon Quest gameplay, and you've got one of the highest quality titles in memory.
2) Ys: The Ark of Napishtim (PS2) - No deep story here, but the characters are memorable, the music is probably the best of any domestic game of the year, and the controls are fantastic.
3) Suikoden Tactics (PS2) - I can sum up this game with two words: apology accepted.
4) Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (DS) - Great dialog, funny, and forces the player to think. Plus, it's a genre we haven't seen in the US before.
5) Riviera: The Promised Land (GBA) - Damn catchy, melding elements of a dating sim with an isolinear puzzle game. Quirky and fun.
Non-RPG Top Picks
|Mike Wilson's Top Picks|
1) Ys: The Ark of Napishtim (PS2)
2) Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (PS2)
3) Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (DS)
4) The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (GBA)
5) Riviera: The Promised Land (GBA)