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RPGFan's Games of 2006 - Editor's Top 5

Welcome to RPGFan's Games of 2006 feature. We'll be keeping the same theme as last year, with our individual top 5 lists and the point system for one title - RPG of the Year. For the rest of the games, we're going to use a pure vote-based system per category. You'll see the same eight awards you're familiar with from last year's awards.

That being said, check out each editor's top 5 RPGs of the year and the Games of the Year list by using the navigation above.

Please remember that our "Games of 2006" reach from December 20, 2005 to December 20, 2006, and enjoy the article!.

Patrick Gann John McCarroll Mark P. Tjan
Mike Salbato Daniel Stringer Damian Thomas

Patrick Gann's Top Picks

5) Baten Kaitos Origins (GCN) - It was hard to decide which game would make fifth place. I played a lot of RPGs this year, but I think it's safe to say that BK Origins earns this spot for being the longest without ever becoming boring. The game took me about 70 hours to complete, and I really enjoyed every minute of it. Maybe I just love Monolith Software too much (see my #1 game), but there's something special about the way this RPG plays out. The card-based battle system, which initially turned me off, is now one of my favorite battle systems among all RPGs I've played.

4) LostMagic (DS) - I know what you're thinking: "how did some short, dinky DS game end up on a top five list?" Let me spell it out for you. This RTS/RPG hybrid made better use of the DS's capabilities than any other RPG on the handheld to date. It was truly an amazing feat, and I had tons of fun playing through this game twice over. The art was cute, the gameplay was excellent (and difficult!), and it was generally great to see Taito back in action. Kudos to Ubisoft for bringing this one to us.

3) Shadow Hearts: From The New World (PS2) - Lots of people somehow managed to pass this game up. Published by XSEED, the same folks who brought Wild Arms 4 to the US, this game came out early in 2006 and fell under many RPG Fans' radars. The game gave me a renewed interest in the dark and quirky RPGs out there, and the judgment ring was better than ever before.

2) Kingdom Hearts II (PS2) - An excellent sequel that improved on the original every way, KH2 was hands-down the most fun Action RPG I've played in years. The best thing about the game was the addition of extremely odd Disney worlds such as Tron, Pirates of the Caribbean, and old-timey black-and-white world. The game was excellent.

1) Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra (PS2) - I know that I'm not on drugs, so I can only assume that everyone else is. Dozens of mainstream reviewers called Xenosaga III's plot "convoluted" and "messy." I think those reviewers are basically morons who didn't quite get the picture. XS3 finished the series brilliantly, and to all of us RPG Fans who think that games can be considered "art" in the same way one looks at music, paintings, and literature, this game was truly a work of art.

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John McCarroll's Top Picks

5) Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth (PSP) - Yes, I am one of many who didn't play this game on the PSOne, but the PSP release makes a fantastic portable RPG, especially considering the PSP's lack of quality titles for the hardcore gamer. If you own a PSP and read this site, go find yourself a copy.

4) Front Mission 5 (Import PS2) - I'm sure you're going to note that I'm the only person with this game on my list, and you would be right by assuming I was the driving force behind the award on the other page. Front Mission 5 is simply a fantastic title. Despite my weak grasp of the Japanese language, Front Mission 5 provided a completely engrossing title which I wasn't able to keep my hands off of. Please, Square Enix, please, bring this to an English-speaking territory!

3) Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria (PS2) - Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria dumps a lot of the stuff hardcore fans loved in the first game. Silmeria isn't a bizzarely non-linear title where the best ending isn't available without a strategy guide, but it does contain some of the most gorgeous graphics on the PS2 and one of the best battle systems that's been seen in and RPG, ever.

2) The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii) - It's obvious from the get-go that Twilight Princess wasn't developed from the ground up for play on the Wii console. That doesn't mean that the game doesn't feel superior on the console; aiming claws and bows feels so much more natural, and there's nothing like doing the motions of Link's spin attacks yourself. The puzzles are as ruthless as ever and the game has a gorgeous artistic style. Snag it!

1) Final Fantasy XII (PS2) - I really don't know what can be said about the last PlayStation 2 Final Fantasy that wasn't said in Stephen's massive review of the game. The scope of the title is massive and the battle system places the player in a more strategic role rather than that of a battlefield corporal. It's a game that's massive in scope and was completely worth the wait.

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Mark P. Tjan's Top Picks

5) Dreamfall: The Longest Journey (PC, Xbox) - The original Longest Journey was one of my top all-time PC favourites, and Dreamfall pretty much continued that sentiment. Despite rather irritating controls (which seems to be a universal complaint), I was impressed with how detailed the world had gotten. The original had been a masterpiece in its own right, but Dreamfall took it to all new places. I had a few minor quibbles beyond the controls (such as Tibetans speaking Chinese... Talk about an ugly political faux pas), but overall I was deeply impressed. A thorough win.

4) Phantasy Star Universe (PC, PS2, 360) - It's Phantasy Star. How could I not love it (or at least try)? Almost every complaint I had about Phantasy Star Online has been addressed with PSU, and being the only action-based online RPG on the market (to my knowledge), it's become a staple on my hard drive. I've been a fan of PS ever since the Genesis incarnations, and while PSU is a departure from a lot of what was, it's by no means a bad move. Definitely more involved than PSO was, my only complaint is that we need more missions. Come on Sega!

3) Suikoden V (PS2) - Suikoden kind of hit a low point with IV. Okay, it didn't "kind of" hit one, it unwittingly threw itself off a cliff, much in the style of Mr. Magoo. But Konami's managed to salvage things with part V. Harkening back to the good ol' days of Suikoden I and II, V isn't without its problems, but definitely brings the series back up into the light. An excellent storyline, wonderfully scripted dialogue, and some of the most endearing characters the series has seen can be found in this game. I know I'll get flak for this, but I rate it on an equal standing with part II. It's just that good.

2) The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii) - Who knew an RPG could work so well on the Wii? Okay, so Zelda's not always considered an RPG, but the fact remains that we're treating it as one. It's both amazing as a technical demonstration of how to adapt the Wii to traditional gaming setups, and as a stellar entry into the Zelda series. While not perfectly crafted for the Wii, its adaptation is still incredible.

1) Final Fantasy XII (PS2) - Ah Final Fantasy XII. Here's the winner of the year. To be honest, I'm not a huge fan of the Kitase-directed Final Fantasies of late, including X and X-2. All the VII merchandise hasn't exactly inspired me either. But FFXII is a game of epic proportions. Quite possibly one of the longest Final Fantasies ever created, it's also one of the largest. An immense, sprawling, and detailed world awaits the willing player. I haven't been quite so happy with an FF since VI came out on the SNES more than a decade ago. The world feels truly gigantic, dotted with countless NPCs, a huge variety of missions, and all manner of beautiful locale. They even sourced real-world languages like sanskrit to spice up the dialect of Bhujerba, and made sure there were vocal differences between imperial soldiers, citizens of Rabanastre, and more. Truly an amazing game, and worthy of being our top contender this year

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Mike Salbato's Top Picks

5) Phantasy Star Universe (PC, PS2, 360) - It's Phantasy Star Online, but improved and expanded in every way imaginable. That's all you need to know. If you liked or loved PSO, you're going to adore PSU. If you didn't care for it... well, PSU probably won't convert you. I was one of the people who loved PSO, and I've been longing for a new sci-fi RPG... uh, a new well-made sci-fi RPG rather, and PSU fulfills that longing. Beautiful setting and design, a more in-depth (and fluid) combat system, bigger parties, etc. I just wish I had more time to play it.

4) Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth (PSP) - I admit it: I never played Valkyrie Profile on the PSOne. Easily one of the most critically-acclaimed and sought after RPGs ever, by the time I got the urge to play it, prices were soaring past $100. So when the PSP version was announced, I was excited. Not only because I was able to dust off a system I haven't used in about a year and get some use out of my $250 doorstop, but because I could finally play it. And it's true what everyone told me: If you don't get the good ending, you'll never understand why people love the game. Without it, VP is simply a nice RPG with some shortcomings, but gameplay so fun it makes up for it. WITH said ending VP becomes fantastic. The fact that majority of the game's story is contained in these hidden events may not be the smartest design choice, but hey, what's there is good, if you can find it.

3) Kingdom Hearts II (PS2) - Kingdom Hearts came out of nowhere (for me) and instantly become one of my most beloved games, PS2 or otherwise. So when a sequel was announced - and I don't count Chain of Memories - I was excited. Much like Zelda above, KHII took everything that the original game was and amplified it immeasurably, to the point that it's hard to go back and play the first game. The biggest complaint about the first was, by far, about the camera. I never really minded it, but switching to the second analog stick for camera control made the game much more playable. Add that with the already-polished ability system, new forms, fantastic new worlds (that I still wish were bigger), a gummi ship game that's actually fun and countless other things, and you wish all sequels were this good.

2) Final Fantasy XII (PS2) - Speaking of criticism, Final Fantasy XII met with more than any new introduction the (main) series has seen, due mostly in part to the battle system. Many gamers are glad to see random battles being phased out, but when Square Enix announced that combat would be real-time, it was a bit much for most people to handle. It plays very much like an online RPG, as the FFXI influences are blatant. But you know what? It works. It keeps the game moving, and more important, more coherent with everything taking place in the same place as opposed to being whisked away to some 'battle field' that always strangely looks the same. Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy are the two biggest RPG series out there - where DQ adheres to tradition (the newly-announced DQIX aside), FF always manages to do new things in each installment, and often sets a standard for the industry. I have a feeling we're going to see much more RPGs like this, and less of the same old thing, and that's exciting. Oh, and the rest of the game is pretty great too, industry importance aside.

1) The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii) - Twilight Princess was the Zelda that fans had been waiting for since late 2000, when an early GameCube demo video showed a realistic Link and Ganondorf battling. The style was reminiscent of what most consider to be the pinnacle of the series, Ocarina of Time, but running on more powerful hardware. Then Wind Waker came along, and after a lot of complaining, people played it and it turned out to be a great game.... but fans still wanted to see how a 'new' Ocarina would be. A new Zelda, set in a realistic, dark and sprawling Hyrule. Twilight Princess was made out to be not only Ocarina's successor, but managed to deliver on every promise, and then go far beyond what anyone hoped for. Ocarina of Time set a new high mark for games to reach for in 1998, and now eight years later, it's finally been topped by easily the best game in the series. Go get this now.

 
Daniel Stringer's Top Picks

5) Suikoden V (PS2) - After the speed bump that was Suikoden IV, I felt a certain sense of trepidation when I first inserted this game into my trusty PS2. All those doubts were blown out of the water within an hour. The Suikoden we had all come to love was back in full force. Memorable characters, epic battles, betrayals galore; the developers obviously took a good hard look at Suikoden II in order to fix what Suikoden IV broke. The only things keeping this game back are a somewhat clunky menu interface and a pathetically low level of difficulty, even by Suikoden standards. Those tiny problems donít do a whole lot to blemish the overall experience, however. All in all, Suikoden V is a fantastic game that stands out from the pack even in a year full of great RPGs.

4) Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin (DS) - While last yearís handheld Castlevania release, Dawn of Sorrow, was a fine game in its own right, I couldnít help but feel I had been down this road already. The game was a practical carbon clone of its direct prequel, Aria of Sorrow. Well, I definitely did not get that same vibe from this yearís handheld bit of whip cracking goodness. While the core of the gameplay still pays homage to the almighty Symphony of the Night, there are a few fundamental changes that make things interesting. Controlling two different characters and strategically using their different abilities to get past tricky obstacles or vanquish the undead hordes adds a certain depth to the series that hasnít really existed before. Also, the addition of various quests to accomplish gives Portrait of Ruin an even greater RPG feel. And best of all: no cheesy, uninspired usage of the touch screen. Good stuff, even if you arenít already a big fan of the series.

3) Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner - Raidou Kuzunoha vs. the Soulless Army (PS2) - Simplistic? Absolutely. The easiest game ever stamped with the name Shin Megami Tensei? No doubt about it. But it doesnít matter, because this game is pure fun. The unique atmosphere alone is something to be praised: early 20th century Japanese summoner-detectives arenít exactly common in gaming. All throughout the game, the player is confronted with an intriguing clash between old and new. Fire spirits mingle with gun-toting zombies; mystical powers face up against walking steampunk/Macross hybrids. Sure, the game is pretty simple, but youíll enjoy every second of it, and thatís all that matters. If you liked the vibe of other SMT games but were put off by their rather high level of difficulty, this is a game youíll come to adore.

2) Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria (PS2) - And they say change is bad. Valkyrie Profile 2 throws out nearly every single aspect that made its predecessor so enjoyable, yet still manages to provide a fantastic gaming experience. Whether it be the intricacies of combat or the plight of your bipolar protagonist, this game never fails to keep you on your toes. The only real disappointment I had with the game was musically: the tunes seem more like songs that didnít make the cut for the Baten Kaitos games instead of worthy successors to the original game, my favorite Sakuraba work. However, the positive aspects of the game far outweigh all other miniscule flaws. If you donít already own this, you should remedy that problem as soon as you can.

1) Final Fantasy XII (PS2) - What can I say that the entire internet hasnít already said? Unlike, oh, every FF game released since that tale of big swords and bigger hair, the good things you hear about this game arenít solely the product of slavish FF fanboyism. Stellar gameplay, lovely graphics, no Nomura character designs; I could go on and on about the positive qualities of this game, but Iíll make it short and sweet. Final Fantasy XII will probably end up being the defining RPG of the PS2 era, and with good reason. If it werenít for a lackluster political plot that smacks of Suikoden lite, and characters that are painfully one-dimensional (or even half-dimensional in a couple of cases), I would proclaim this to be the greatest RPG ever made. Iíd tell you to buy this as soon as you can, but you already have.

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Damian Thomas' Top Picks

5) Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner - Raidou Kuzunoha vs. the Soulless Army (PS2) - SMT fans will love darn near every SMT game, and usually that's not just because they're fanboys. Still, while I enjoyed this iteration of the series, Atlus needs to stay away from action RPGs, as the battle system got repetitive after awhile. But in terms of story and setting, this game ranks up there with Xenosaga in terms of quality of execution, and beyond in terms of humor.

4) Kingdom Hearts II (PS2) - While not the best sequel I could hope for, Kingdom Hearts II kept me entertained for a good while with its higher difficulty level than the original. Still, Square really has to work on breaking out of the mindset of having replay value = tedious level building/farming.

3) The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (PC, 360) - I was so hyped up for this game, and when I got it, it lived up to that hype... for a couple weeks. Then it sort of got tedious and repetative, and in the end, without the ability to play with other people ala an MMORPG, the eye candy wasn't enough to save it from the #3 spot.

2) Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra (PS2) - While not everything I hoped it would be, Xenosaga III was still a very solid game, and brought the series to a nice, if open ending.

1) Suikoden V (PS2) - As a huge Suikoden fan, this installment was the first since II to feel like a REAL Suikoden game. Aside from having a decent plot, a good smattering of cameos, and a return to the battle system from II, the game was just a lot of fun to play.

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