Game of the Year 2011

Derek Heemsbergen's Awards
5) Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked (3DS)
While the original Devil Survivor is a couple of years old now, the 3DS port added enough new content to warrant a second playthrough. The sixty-plus hours I spent this time around were just as captivating as my first experience inside the Tokyo Lockdown. The battles are still tactical and challenging, the story remains unique, and the 8th Day epilogue chapters are full of exciting revelations. Bring on Devil Survivor 2, Atlus.

4) Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland (PS3)
After being disappointed by Atelier Rorona, I expected only slight tweaks to the Atelier formula with this follow-up. What I got, however, was a vastly superior sequel that addressed many of my criticisms and delivered the satisfying JRPG romp that I'd been longing for. Improved combat, streamlined synthesis, and a more coherent narrative helped Atelier Totori reach the potential her predecessor failed to achieve. The game's relatively slow pace was refreshing, and, with solid gameplay systems in place, my concerns melted away because I was free to traverse the idyllic Arland countryside without battling frustration every step of the way. I can't wait to see what Atelier Meruru brings to the table.

3) Pokémon Black & White (DS)
There is a surprising amount of depth in the world of Pokémon, and I'm not just talking about the ever-expanding number of creatures. The latest installment in the series innovated in connectivity while introducing all of the new features fans have come to expect of a new Pokémon title. New triple battles added another layer of strategy to select encounters, while the colorful, animated sprites brought life where dated attack animations could no longer suffice. By limiting the selection of Pokémon to new varieties during the main story, the developers created a world that felt fresh to newcomers and veterans alike. These are small changes, sure, but the impact they had on a stagnating game structure was profound. The universal appeal and consistently high level of quality deserve to be recognized.

2) The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii)
There isn't a lot to say about this game that hasn't been said already. It raises the bar for Zelda games by altering the series' traditional formula in a significant way. Areas feel more organic and connected rather than a series of numbered dungeons. The story, too, has a greater focus, and it sets the groundwork for future titles in the Zelda saga. Thanks to near-perfect implementation of motion control, every enemy encounter is dynamic and every tool has a unique feel and purpose. Most importantly of all, the game is flat-out fun. This is the Wii operating at its highest capacity. I've always been a Zelda fan, but Skyward Sword has elevated my love for the series to another level.

1) The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky (PSP)
The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky may not be the most innovative game released this year, but for what it lacks in innovation, it compensates with an abundance of personality and charm. This is not a game driven by complex number-crunching; gameplay is there, of course, but the focus is on getting to know the characters and becoming connected with their collective plight. The protagonists, Estelle and Joshua, have a natural dynamic that is a joy to watch. Their evolving relationship makes for an endearing subplot, and the supporting cast is full of likeable, well-defined people. This is all saying nothing of the intriguing (if somewhat clichéd) main tale of magical artifacts and political intrigue. If I understand correctly, Trails in the Sky First Chapter is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what the series has to offer, and I couldn't be more excited to see how the story pans out. If you have even a passing interest in JRPGs, I implore you: give this game a try. Help it receive the attention it so greatly deserves.

Most Disappointing (tie)
Ar tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel (PS3)

Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny (PS3/Wii)
Like Kimberley, I couldn't connect with this game, despite being really hyped for it. Sloppy combat, uninteresting characters, and dumbed-down farming made it a chore to play. I hope Rune Factory 4 wipes the slate clean and makes the series enjoyable again.

Overall Awards
Traditional RPG Action RPG Graphic Adventure Strategy RPG Indie RPG Downloadable RPG Mobile Downloadable Content (DLC)
And the winner is...
Best RPG of 2011
Editors' Picks
Abraham Ashton Liu Andrew Barker Dave Yeager Derek Heemsbergen Dennis Rubinshteyn Eric Farand John McCarroll Kimberley Wallace Kyle E. Miller Liz Maas Mike Salbato Neal Chandran Robert Steinman Stephen Meyerink

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