5) Heavy Rain (PS3) – A game touted for its emotional storyline and its status as digital art, Heavy Rain succeeds in much the same way Mass Effect 2 did: it makes you care about the characters. The outstandingly exciting action sequences are complemented amazingly by the killer's "shoebox" challenges for protagonist Ethan, and I remember the implications of them as the most memorable portions of the game; indeed, some of the most memorable gaming moments I've ever had. If I didn't think the killer's true identity was obscured by some shady storytelling practices (as well as being a serious let-down), I might have even ranked the game higher.
4) Golden Sun: Dark Dawn (DS) – Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is a great experience that made me constantly flash back to the two original games. The gameplay, art, music, and throwbacks to the classic games all make the experience a warm, fuzzy pleasure. On one hand, that is a great thing, and one of the reasons why I give it this number four spot. On the other hand, it makes me hope sincerely that Camelot tries for some evolution in the inevitable next sequel, which is hopefully as big an improvement on Dark Dawn as Lost Age was on the original.
3) Etrian Odyssey III (DS) – Much less difficult, my number three spot undoubtedly goes to Etrian Odyssey III. This entry in the series improves the pacing dramatically, while still maintaining (and in fact, adding to) everything I enjoyed about the previous two games. The music is outstanding, the combat is a blast, and there are obscenely numerous customization options for the player's party. EOIII manages the impressive feat of balancing an old-school style with modern gameplay conventions and absolutely ate away at my free hours.
2) Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep (PSP) – Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep is the best game in the series. Given the quality of the previous titles, this is quite a compliment, but it is one the game earns handily. I agonized over whether it should receive the top spot on my list, but Birth by Sleep faced incredibly strong competition, and its status as number two is by no means a failure. Birth by Sleep introduces several new characters, explains some of the rapidly inflating backstory of the series, moves the plot forward in a meaningful way, and offers the most refined battle system in the series yet. A series of incredibly memorable boss encounters, an amazing soundtrack, and a heartbreaking yet uplifting ending that finally brings the narrative back around to Sora caps off this absolutely stellar entry in the series. Not only does it make me anticipate Kingdom Hearts III even more, it makes me able to forgive Square Enix for Re:coded.
1) Mass Effect 2 (360 / PC) – I had to agonize over which game to give the number one spot to, but I feel that Mass Effect 2, in the end, has more than earned it. Not only is it an improvement in every conceivable way on the original Mass Effect, but it is also an incredibly tight, polished, memorable package. The shooting is vastly improved, the entertaining dialogue and moral choices expanded, the performance made silky-smooth; these things all contributed to the many, many hours I spent enjoying the game. The music is so well-done that I believe it stands up to sci-fi greats like Vangelis' score for Blade Runner (which is also amazing, if you are unfamiliar with it). Perhaps its greatest achievement of all, however, is the huge cast of memorable, well-developed characters (though Legion perhaps a bit less so than the rest). I was determined to succeed in the game's finale not because of a sense of completion, but because I wanted every single one of these people to survive with me. Bioware has come as close as they ever have to making characters a player can really care about in Mass Effect 2, and I think that's the thing they should be most proud of. As the greatest character in the series would say, a good one word summation of Mass Effect 2 is IMPRESSIVE!
Biggest Game I Hope is Awesome: Back to the Future: Episode One (PC / iOS)
Most Hilariously Bad Voice Acting in an Otherwise Fun Game: Arc Rise Fantasia (Wii)
Biggest "When is Someone Going to Make Obsidian Do Some Bug Testing in their Games" Game: Fallout: New Vegas (360 / PS3 / PC)
Biggest Game I Should REALLY Finish: Final Fantasy XIII (PS3 / 360)
Biggest Game Square Enix should REALLY Finish: Final Fantasy XIV (PC)
Top 3 Soundtracks (Since I can't pick one)
Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep (PSP)
Mass Effect 2 (360 / PC)
Nier (360 / PS3)