5) Nier (360 / PS3) – With the right team this game could've been even better. With the right marketing, this game could've sold better too. In any case, we've been quick to find that Nier has become the "sleeper hit" of 2010. While many in the "mainstream" dismissed it as a shoddy God of War clone, those who paid attention and were willing to give the game a fair try found a powerful and memorable Action RPG with one of the best plots I've seen in a Square Enix title in years. It also had the best soundtrack ever (see below).
4) Sakura Wars ~So Long, My Love~ (PS2/Wii) – The series that just couldn't catch a break in North America finally got its chance. Apparently, it was a failed chance, if sales are any indication. That doesn't change the fact that I adore this game and I'm grateful to NIS America for giving the fifth game in this strange, yet wonderful series a fair shake. New York Combat Revue! LET'S GO!
3) Ys SEVEN (PSP) – On any given day, it's a toss-up for which I like more between the all-new, party-based Ys SEVEN and the refined retro-tastic Oath in Felghana. Today, I'm feeling SEVEN, so I give it the number three spot. The biggest lesson learned from this title is that Falcom still has that magic touch, even as they begin trying completely new things. Cheers to XSEED Games for giving this franchise a shot and treating it so much better than other localizers have.
2) Shiren the Wanderer (Wii) – All "roguelike" games have the potential to be addictive. But many of them lack the refinement expected of a well-rounded RPG. Shiren the Wanderer fits the bill perfectly as both a "gateway drug" for those shy of the roguelike experience and a robust, long-form adventure for those well-acquainted with the genre. The music is beautiful, the graphics decent (for a Wii title), and the story will hold your attention so long as you don't get stuck. I really hope everyone checks out this fine title in the next year if they didn't in 2010, and remember to play on Easy mode unless you're willing to risk it all – like a true rogue.
1) Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 Portable (PSP) – I'd largely ignored the Shin Megami Tensei franchise for some time. This was folly on my part. Many of my trusted, beloved co-editors told me just how great the series was. I'd dabbled in the first Persona, and I'd watched people play a variety of SMT games. And, though I gave the big nod to Persona 4 in 2008 alongside the rest of the staff, the truth is that's another one I've watched more than I've played. My level of commitment to the series changed with the release of P3P – which added a different scenario when playing as the new female protagonist. I had the strange experience of playing as the female first, and then playing the more "canon" male side afterward. Everything about this game sucked me in: the Social Links, the Persona Fusion system (thoroughly streamlined compared to P1), the combat system, the music... yeah. It stole the show for me. Sorry, readers, for my lateness in bowing down to the mother of all RPGs!
Glory of Heracles (DS)
Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale (PC)
Ys: The Oath in Felghana (PSP)
Arc Rise Fantasia (Wii)
Top 5 RPG Original Soundtracks of 2010
5) Classic Dungeon ~Fuyoku no Masoujin~ OST – Known as Cladun in the US, this quirky PSP dungeon crawler goes intentionally retro (much like 3D Dot Game Heroes). One key difference though was that its soundtrack is doubled over. If you want your 8-bit chiptune fix, you can certainly have it. But if you instead want one amazing soundtrack that totally clashes with the game's pixel-heavy graphics, but is nonetheless totally pleasing to your ears, you have that as well. I appreciate other soundtracks that do this (Etrian Odyssey III was another contender for slot five), but no one did it quite as well as this particular sound team.
4) Tokyo Mono Hara Shi Karasunomori Gakuen Kitan Gakusou – Most of our readers have never heard of this game, or its over-arching series. But let me assure you, this one is a big deal. If you like Shin Megami Tensei's music for more reasons than Shoji Meguro, you're almost bound to like this soundtrack. The "Tokyo Demon High School" series has had all sorts of cousins and gaiden titles (much like SMT), and they've come from different development houses with different composers. This one features Kenichi Tsuchiya and Atsushi Kitajoh, both of whom have worked with Meguro (and some before Meguro) on other Atlus titles. This soundtrack is totally worth having; and, for what it's worth, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Atlus gives this one a chance in English-speaking territories.
3) Fable III OST – Composer Russell Shaw kicked it up a notch or five with this one. I was never particularly impressed with the previous two Fable soundtracks, but Fable III is one of the few big-name Western RPGs of 2010 with a truly memorable soundtrack.
2) Final Fantasy XIII OST – The game itself may be best described as underwhelming, suffering the enormous weight of expectation. The soundtrack, by composer Masashi Hamauzu (FFX, SaGa Frontier 2), is another matter. Being heavy on vocals, containing sweeping orchestral themes, and providing a 21st century take on impressionism all mark the soundtrack as plainly different from all other VGM out there. And with four discs of music, there's plenty to love.
1) Nier Gestalt & Replicant OST – As if there was ever any doubt.
Top 5 RPG-Related Arranged Soundtracks of 2010
5) Sekaiju no MeiQ 3 *seikai no raihousya* Super Arrange Version – Yuzo Koshiro's OST for the latest in the Etrian Odyssey series just barely missed its spot on my personal top 5. But the Super Arrange Version cannot be ignored. Arranged entirely by the "lesser-knowns" on Basiscape (basically, everyone that isn't Sakimoto/Iwata), this album is sure to please VGM nuts of all stripes.
4) Benyamin Nuss Plays Uematsu – I thought twice about including this one on the list... "perhaps we have enough representation from Germany on the list," I thought to myself (skip down to #1). But I can't help it. Benyamin Nuss, a young piano prodigy who plays alongside the WDR for concerts including Symphonic Fantasies, did a full Nobuo Uematsu tribute album. The arrangement of "The Serpent Trench" (FFVI) alone makes the album worth it. Seeing some interesting arranged tracks for Lost Odyssey and Blue Dragon didn't hurt either.
3) Ar tonelico III Image CD Utau Oka~Ar=Ciel Ar=Dor~ – The Ar tonelico III OST and its two Hymmnos Concert albums are all pathetically weak compared to their predecessors. A 34 minute EP from Akiko Shikata may seem like a small consolation prize, but let me assure you that this one packs a whallop. The quality is right up there with the first pair of Hymmnos Concerts, yet it's not a rehash of style. It's something new and beautiful. Get this one if you can!
2) Chill SQ – Square Enix's music department has started their own line of arranged EPs in the form of the "SQ" series. The second, Chill SQ, is a retro-heavy electronica extravaganza. Big titles (FFIV-VI) are represented, as are lesser-known games (the very first SaGa and Live A Live, to name a few). This is a super-cool album and one that I've returned to regularly since its May 2010 release.
1) Symphonic Fantasies – music from Square Enix – Buy this CD. It's the concert recording from 2009's "Symphonic Fantasies" concert, a one-night-only affair of epic proportion in Cologne, Germany. Four absurdly large medley tracks for Kingdom Hearts, Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger/Cross, and Final Fantasy, all arranged and performed to perfection. Tack on mastering work at Abbey Road studios and the fact that you can buy the CD in multiple regions (Europe and Japan each have their own print), and it becomes obvious pretty quickly why this one hits the top for 2010.