5) Spectrobes: Origins (Wii) - You may be wondering what the heck this game is doing on my top five list. A part of me wonders that too. This is, admittedly, a game with a target market of children and teens/tweens. Yet, there's no denying that this game had some of the most solid Action RPG controls on the Wii to date. Also, the graphics were strong, and the plot was far more memorable than the two DS games preceding it. When I started playing this game, it was as an assignment, and I went in with a begrudged sense of duty to RPGFan. When I came out, I was refreshed by just how much fun and challenge was packed into this great game.
4) Ar tonelico II: Melody of Metafalica (PS2) - Though marred by some serious localization issues, including a near-unavoidable game-freezing bug, Ar tonelico II makes it on the list simply because it's everything I ever wanted in an RPG, even things I didn't even know I wanted. Beautiful anime-style art? Check! Dating sim element? Double-check! Songs in a made-up language? Triple-check! The sequel is a great continuation to what looks to be a trilogy of games. I'm looking forward to the PS3 "Ar tonelico III" in 2010.
3) Star Ocean: Second Evolution (PSP) - This is, in all likelihood, my favorite tri-Ace game forever. I've only skipped a few titles, and though I have high expectations for the future, nothing gets me as excited as SO2. Granted, the new PSP remake did swap out character art for something a little too candy-coated for my liking. But the new voice acting was strong, and the gameplay (considered "revolutionary" a decade ago) still wins me over every time I play.
2) Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (DS) - The only thing I would've wanted from this game? Having it be on something other than the DS. I didn't think I "gaiden" title focusing on a presumptuous band of Nobodies would hold water against my current favorite entry in the franchise (Kingdom Hearts II). But it did, and I actually came to like most of the people in Organization XIII. I also liked the bite-sized chunks of gameplay and story offered, and the Panel system was fantastic too. It's a perfect title for gamers on the go, but there's no way you'll enjoy it unless you're a devotee to the entire series, and you're as interested in the original cast as you are the Disney and FF characters.
1) Final Fantasy IV: The After Years (WiiWare) - With each FF being a self-contained universe, I can't help but get excited at the prospect of Square Enix milking particular entries to their absolute limit. I know I ought to be ashamed of that statement, but the truth is that I liked FFX-2 and Crisis Core and Advent Children, and I want more of it. In fact, I want more of it for different games in the series. That's why I was so delighted by Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, the episodic-content direct sequel to one of the best games in the series. It looks and feels like a (really good, high-end) SNES game, and it plays very similar to the original FFIV. However, the added "moon phase" and the gigantic cast of characters is what kept me coming back for more. Anyone who skipped over this release in 2009 needs to add it to their WiiWare library ASAP
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy (PS2), Final Fantasy XI: A Shantotto Ascension (PC/PS2/360), Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride (DS), Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes (DS)
Top 5 RPG Original Soundtracks of 2009 (no arranged albums, no remakes)
5) Ys SEVEN OST - Though, technically, I think I like the Ys Chronicles soundtrack a little more, a remake of that soundtrack (for the 80th time) violates the rules I set for myself in making this list. The new music for Ys SEVEN isn't the greatest thing I've ever heard from Falcom, but it is still quite strong, with plenty of memorable tracks to listen to on repeat.
4) 7th Dragon OST - Yuzo Koshiro follows the path he set for himself in the Etrian Odyssey series by first composing on a retro sound source (in this case, NES/Famicom chiptunes), and then "upgrading" the soundtrack for the DS. Both the DS and the NES-ish music on this soundtrack are fantastic. See also The Dark Spire (Genmu no Tou to Tsurugi no Okite in Japan) as a good example of this concept put to use. Consider the Dark Spire soundtrack an honorable mention.
3) Dun-Dam ~Dungeons & Dam~ Audio Collection - Acquire's "Dam Management RPG" on the DS, that has little chance of coming to America, has an amazing soundtrack. I'm shocked by how good it is. Seriously, I'm just downright shocked. Composer Toshiko Tasaki has been around for ages, writing BGM for SMT games and, more recently, the Touch Detective games. But she came out into her own with this fantastic, retro-ish (yet somehow refreshing) soundtrack. I recommend it to everyone.
2) Valhalla Knights: Eldar Saga OST - Despite being a terrible game, Motoi Sakuraba's soundtrack for the game is great. It showcases Sakuraba's ability to write music other than progressive synth-rock. I haven't been this surprised by Sakuraba since Baten Kaitos.
1) RIZ-ZOAWD OST - Also known as "The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road" in America. This DS title didn't wow me via gameplay, but the soundtrack from Basiscape composers (including founder and lead Hitoshi Sakimoto) really surprised me. It was a combination of my low expectations and the resulting high quality of the soundtrack that elevates this soundtrack to the top spot for 2009.
Best non-RPG game of the year
BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger (PS3/360) is the best fighting game I've ever played. I had, to my own folly, largely ignored the Guilty Gear series for many years. I'd casually played a few entries in the series, but never long enough to get sucked in. Thank the heavens above that Aksys Games was eager to localize the console version of Arc System Works' latest and greatest 2D fighter. And, dear reader, if you ever want to go up against my mediocre Rachel Alucard, you'll find me as "pgann" on the PlayStation Network.