5) Aspiring indie games – If I had played all the blockbuster titles this year, like Mass Effect 2 and Heavy Rain, this list might be quite different. However, out of the RPGs I played this year, I didn't feel that any game warranted a spot at number five on my list – and most of those were commercial titles. I do feel strongly enough about the growing indie scene, however – both in terms of quantity and quality – that I want to give a nod to all of the indie developers working hard to make a name for themselves, and, hopefully, help inspire an industry mired in marketing and stingy publishers. Independent developers: you guys have the power to introduce fresh ideas and freely communicate your genius and creativity – albeit thanklessly. With consistent, giant leaps over the years in presentation and design, indie developers might one day give publisher-backed games a run for their money. Let's just hope Steam keeps going strong.
4) Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light (DS) – Hey, look at that – Square-Enix can do something right! Even die-hard loyalists who fell in love with Final Fantasy during its golden age have started to shirk S-E. However, with new, stalwart ideas like The World Ends With You, there is hope, but that was in 2008. Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light does the exact opposite: it leans on old ideas with a couple innovative properties. So, why does it earn a much-deserved number four spot on my list? The 4 Heroes of Light accomplishes what so many other games try to do, and that is rekindle the flame of years past (in the first half of the game, anyway). What better way to appease those die-hard loyalists?
3) King's Bounty: Armored Princess (PC) – Speaking of nostalgia, 1C donned their mining helmet and pickax as they excavated out the original King's Bounty. After they dusted it off, wiped it clean, and refinished the coating, what we got was a slightly improved version called Armored Princess. The classiest of classic gamers know the old DOS/Genesis title well, and should not shy away from this pseudo-sequel. With just enough added to the combat system to encourage depth while maintaining its core, Armored Princess promises a beautiful adventure galloping through a lush (or desolate) world. Just ignore The Legend and Crossworlds, and go straight for this beauty.
2) Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale (PC) – The Torneko spin-off series of the Dragon Quest titles was developed shortly after Dragon Quest IV enjoyed resounding success in Japan. The still-young Enix threw in a humble shopkeeper-warrior clad in purple and white clothing named Torneko – known as Taloon in the States. He certainly was not the typical hero, but what he lacked in bravado he made up for in his introduction: mercantilism. Recettear capitalized on this niche audience of gamers who would rather sit behind a counter and learn about the concept of supply-and-demand than krrsh'ing and wahwahwah'ing enemies. With a heavy dose of pack-ratting and a pinch of dungeon-crawling, this hot indie title promises a well thought out approach to business combined with tongue-in-cheek references and hilarious writing. Recettear communicates just how far indie RPGs have come and the grand strides they are capable of. Among the entire circuit, this title falls short of only Cave Story and La-Mulana.
1) Prof. Layton and the Unwound Future (DS) – In a year saturated with mediocre or just plain awful titles, the Professor Layton series continues to shine as a beacon of quality. What it lacks in combat it makes up for in a perfect meshing of simple and complex puzzles. Gameplay aside, few tales weave a narrative quite as masterfully as the English archeology expert lives them. Playing out almost like an interactive movie of the highest standard, The Unwound Future tugs at one's heartstrings harder than most blockbuster films could ever hope to, offering its audience not only a satisfying mystery, but added depth to the sagacious cast. Guiding the graphic adventure scene since its first installment, the Professor Layton series continues to improve with each game, and no one, save the logically disinclined, should pass up this title.