5) The Whispered World (PC) – One of two graphic adventures that make my list this year, The Whispered World may be imperfect, but its lack of recognition is entirely undue. Combining beautifully hand-drawn pre-rendered backgrounds with a sometimes cute, sometimes dark setting and story, this game provides an artistic and soulful experience in a year of disappointingly commercial games. The story may seem a bit melodramatic and hackneyed in its conclusion, and several puzzles require logic too murky to appreciate, but overall the game offers enough charisma to please point and click connoisseurs.
4) Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey (DS) – A solid, if not progressive addition to the SMT universe, with an intriguing science fiction and very-SMTish story and addictive gameplay. Strange Journey may not seem like game of the year material, but it kept me playing for hours, something other RPGs this year struggled to do. Maybe it was the battle system, maybe it was the exploration, or maybe it was just to see what kind of crazy demon designs the artists could come up with next.
3) Prof. Layton and the Unwound Future (DS) – The best Professor Layton title yet, and the end of a loose trilogy. While the great gameplay hardly changes in this iteration, Professor Layton gets emotional when he tangles with the future, and I could hardly see the fantastic conclusion through the tears welling in my eyes.
2) Nier (360 / PS3) – Nier will forever stand testament to the addled nature of video game journalism. Nier is unique and poetic and a risky endeavor for its developers that ultimately didn't pay off well. At least there are those few who understand what Japanese RPGs should be like.
1) Mass Effect 2 (360 / PC) – When a player can no longer set aside personal feelings for a game and don an objective lens, it can be due either to the player's fanatical zealous failings, or the game's ability to get personal. Mass Effect 2 got under my skin, slowly built stress and suspense, and delivered one of the most tense and nerve-wracking experiences in video game history. This is one middle entry in a trilogy that will not be forgotten. Absolutely no competition for RPG – and game – of the year.
Most Disappointing RPG of the Year: Almost everything else – The few games that excel this year seem even better when compared to not only dreck like Fragile Dreams and Sands of Destruction, but to the immense disappointments littered throughout the year. Alpha Protocol taught us that Obsidian Entertainment has lost its collective mind. Valkyria Chronicles II ruined a great thing with lazy design and quantity over quality. Dragon Quest IX cannot compare to its predecessor in any way, mostly due to the unnecessary multi-player element and the compromises that brings. Even Fallout: New Vegas robbed the franchise of much of its brilliance. Next year seems to hold great promises. Let's hope developers can keep them this time.
Most Noxious RPG of the Year: Final Fantasy XIII (PS3 / 360) – One scene toward the end of Final Fantasy XIII provides a microcosm of the game's unseemly, overwrought, garish, and ghastly style. There is a race, and racing hover cars, and a speech, and girls kissing to the crowd, and then there are eidolons, which turn into things that can race, and come equipped with ridiculous wannabe-heroes with annoying, apostrophe-ridden titles. This scene represents everything that is incorrect about Final Fantasy XIII. Except the stilted combat and dreadful pacing, of course. This sort of struggle to be hip so completely fails, and these absurd and hilarious displays of excess can be laughed at throughout in this year's most noxious RPG.