5) Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective (DS)
Out of nowhere appeared Ghost Trick, a graphic adventure I initially didn't even realize was released this year. Ghost Trick's staying power seems to be the result of a unique premise, eccentric characters, and mesmerizing animation and music. Sometimes a game has an inexplicably strong effect on you, and Ghost Trick is one of those games for me.
4) The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii)
Skyward Sword exemplifies the sense of joy only fantasy is capable of evoking. From impressionistic collages of color to the fanciful characters, Skyward Sword brims with life and magic. The game instilled certain joy in me and provided a contrast to this year's darker fantasies. Even the gameplay, which is perhaps closest to the real meaning of "gameplay" I've ever experienced, suggests and encourages fun and good feelings. Skyward Sword is 2011's most purely joyful game.
3) Bastion (XBLA/PC)
Bastion came to me during a time when I was falling out of love with video games...and it called me back! Many indie games, although free of tropes and compromises for marketability, have forgotten what they are: games. They just aren't fun. Bastion provides an astonishingly fun and complete experience, all without pretention, something else the indie sector struggles with currently. Bastion may have a touching, poignant story and a design that feels like art, but it never forgets to be engaging to play.
2) Dark Souls (PS3/360)
Upon entering the catacombs during a recent replay of an old game, I said aloud, "These aren't catacombs! Dark Souls, now there's a game that knows catacombs." Perhaps more than any other game on this list, Dark Souls has changed the way I perceive other games. Dark Souls knows all about the deep, dark places in the world, but it also knows the adage, "the darker the dark, the lighter the light." And with a few glorious moments of light, Dark Souls rewards the patient, the heroic, and the determined in ways few games can with their meager catacombs and flimsy undead.
1) The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (PC)
My definition of RPG of the Year seems to change annually and those games that stay with me seem to have little in common. Perhaps the most describable common denominator of every game on this list is its creation of another world, my immersion into it, and the feeling of being better in some way when I come out on the other side. The Witcher 2 is the most complete and whole of the experiences here and one I will take with me into the new year. Fun to play, a joy to watch, engaging to hear, The Witcher 2 takes Geralt on a journey of immense consequence, brought to life by one of the best scripts in video game history. This is why I play video games.
Dragon Age II (PS3/360/PC)
Back to Feature Intro
When I think back to some games, I feel the sweet pull of nostalgia. There are games I wish I was always playing. Looking back at Dragon Age II, I shudder. Even disregarding how thoroughly it crapped on its predecessor, Dragon Age II just isn't a very good game. BioWare lit a sacrificial bonfire in the name of accessibility, offering up many elements that make RPGs appealing. If that weren't damning enough, the story was a non-descript, drama-less mess and the gameplay was an exercise in repetition. As much as I'd like the world to forget about Dragon Age II, I think it's a lesson best remembered. Let history not repeat itself.