5) Skyborn (PC)
I play more RPG Maker games in a month than most folks probably play in a lifetime so it takes a lot for one to bestir me. Skyborn did more than that and made me want to see it expand into an animated series with action figure tie-ins. Who wouldn't want a figurine of Claret, perhaps the most attractive RPG heroine I've journeyed with this year? It's not just a good RPG Maker game, it's a good game, period.
4) Analogue: A Hate Story (PC)
The first word that comes to my mind when thinking about this game is "slick." It looks and feels like a slick production, has killer music, and boasts compelling storytelling that few games match. This game is certainly not for everyone, but that particular niche it targets will be greatly satisfied.
3) Dust: An Elysian Tail (XBLA)
This indie darling came out of nowhere and impressed the heck out of me at E3. I couldn't believe that a one man development house could craft a slick and stunning game that could stand toe-to-toe with anything from VanillaWare. Sure, Dust isn't perfect, but neither was the acclaimed Odin Sphere. The bottom line is that Dust is a cool game with great music that anyone with an XBLA account should try. This game needs to come out on PSN so more people can try it, pronto!
2) Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom (PSP)
It's surprising enough to see an otome game released in the US, not to mention one this good. What's even more surprising is that it's from Idea Factory – a developer with a laughingstock reputation. This is one of the most memorable games I've played all year and with this and Record of Agarest War 2 being some of my favorite gaming experiences this year, Idea Factory is reversing its infamous reputation.
1) Cinders (PC)
This gorgeous and original take on the Cinderella story is one of the most compelling visual novels I have played in a long time. Not only is the story beautifully told, but it is also beautifully presented with stunning artwork, heady music, and gameplay in which even the simplest choices have far-reaching consequences. I've played many visual novels, but few have left the kind of impression that Cinders did, and every genre fan should play it.
Freedom Cry (PC)
I'm always one to stick up for the little guy. I defend RPG Maker games when everyone else dismisses them. But when a game is this godawful, I almost want to join the "anti" bandwagon. How anyone can charge money for such a complete pile of rotting garbage and still sleep at night with a clear conscience is beyond me. Everything about this game is terrible. Not only is it the worst game released in 2012, it is one of the worst games I've ever played in my entire life. Warfare Studios should be ashamed of themselves!
Not only did I adore Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom, but I enjoyed Record of Agarest War 2 quite a bit as well. That game was surprisingly engaging, had stellar music, and was far more enjoyable than the majority of games I played in 2012. It wasn't a perfect game and still had some of the trademark Idea Factory annoyances, but it is undoubtedly a step in the right direction and has the potential to shift some peoples' perceptions of the developer.
Shin Megami Tensei: Soul Hackers (3DS)
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I have never bought a gaming platform for just one game. However, I made an exception here and bought a 3DS XL just for Soul Hackers. After Panzer Dragoon Saga, Soul Hackers is the video game I have most desperately wanted to play and now I will finally get to cross it off my bucket list!