5) Sakura Wars ~So Long, My Love~ (PS2/Wii) – It's Sakura Taisen in English! We're talking an immense JRPG fanboy's or fangirl's dream come true! This is something many of us on this side of the pond thought would never happen. Sure, series purists will lament that their sacred cow has been defiled by the English language, but for the rest of us, it's monumental. That NISA did a solid job on the localization is great too, considering their past flubs. It's too bad this game was overshadowed by other March releases like Resonance of Fate and Final Fantasy XIII, because this was a landmark release that deserved more fanfare.
4) Hexyz Force (PSP) – This Sting RPG may be more straightforward than their previous, less conventional, offerings (Riviera, Yggdra Union, Knights in the Nightmare) but it is my favorite Traditional JRPG for 2010. It may not be a drop dead gorgeous paragon of innovation and creative design like the bigger budget and higher profile titles out there, but it has charm: lots of charm. It's that X-factor that many players think is missing from a lot of RPGs these days. Hexyz Force is beautifully localized, refined, and above all else, fun to play. It even took elements I normally detest in RPGs and made them delectable. Hexyz Force is a great game and a potential sleeper hit for 2010.
3) Ys SEVEN (PSP) – I am an embarrassingly late comer to the Ys series, but what better time than now, thanks to XSEED? Sure, Ys SEVEN may be a slightly different animal than prior Ys games, but it is still the most fun I've had with an action RPG in a very long time. It also oozes the X-factors of "heart," "charm," and "mojo" that players seem to find lacking in modern RPGs. To be honest, this and Hexyz Force could potentially be tied on my top 5 list, but what puts Ys SEVEN above Hexyz Force is the music. Ys games have a reputation for stellar music and Ys SEVEN does not disappoint; even its filler tracks are good. Ys is a legendary series for a reason, and every PSP owner should experience the legend.
2) Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale (PC) – This game was digital crack for me. The mantra of "Just one more hour" turned into several hours and I often found myself up way past my bedtime playing this game. The game had me completely hooked and I absolutely loved every single minute I spent with it. New indie publisher Carpe Fulgur did well to localize this delightful Japanese indie title and I hope to see more obscure Japanese indie titles like this localized in the future. Recettear rocked my free-living world and is definitely my pick for sleeper hit of 2010.
1) Heavy Rain (PS3) – Some people may dismiss Heavy Rain as a mere "tech demo" for the Playstation 3. But it is more than just a killer app that is everything Shenmue wished it could be and more. Heavy Rain possesses one of the most compelling video game stories ever written and the way player input so seamlessly, smoothly, and naturally influences the direction of the story leading to a myriad of outcomes makes the tried-and-true Choose Your Own Adventure interface of prior visual novels seem clunky and archaic in comparison. Visual novels have needed to evolve for decades now, and Heavy Rain represents that evolution. Visual novel developers, particularly those in Japan, should pay close attention to Heavy Rain because this is what players can, and rightfully should, expect from the genre from here on out.
Disappointment of the Year: AGAIN (DS) – AGAIN was far from the worst game I played this year. In fact, many would consider AGAIN a decent, maybe even good, graphic adventure. But this was an offering by the now defunct Cing, a fine developer who brought us the pinnacle of DS graphic adventure games in games like Trace Memory and Hotel Dusk: Room 215. AGAIN was a mediocre graphic adventure that felt like a deflated, half-hearted, and phoned-in effort by Cing, from whom I have come to expect much more. Because of the pedigree and reputation preceding it, AGAIN was easily my biggest letdown of 2010. Here's hoping that Last Window is a return to form for Cing and the last hurrah they deserve.
Runner-Up: Alpha Protocol (PS3 / 360 / PC) – Just like Hellgate: London, all the pre-release trade show hype and awards could not save this oft-delayed game from failing to deliver on its lofty hyped-up expectations. The game itself was not inherently bad, but it left expectant gamers crestfallen. Thus, it was most definitely a disappointment.
And purely for fun, here is my stupid just-for-giggles award:
Best pair of sisters in an RPG for whom the older sister's name begins with the letter L and the younger sister's name begins with the letter S: Lilly and Sasha from Lilly and Sasha: Curse of the Immortals (PC)
Runners up: Lightning and Serah from Final Fantasy XIII (PS3 / 360)