Games of the Year 2013

Derek Heemsbergen's Awards
5) Shin Megami Tensei IV (3DS)
This game was everything I expected it to be, and every once in a while, it's okay to have your expectations merely met — especially if those expectations are as high as mine always are with the Shin Megami Tensei series. SMT IV oozes dark atmosphere with its weighty soundtrack, oppressive difficulty level, and mature story. I'd like to see higher production values in the next mainline SMT game, because I know this series is capable of ascending to even greater heights.

4) Ys: Memories of Celceta (PS Vita)
Adol's latest adventure may not have been his best ever, but it was a damn enjoyable hack-and-slash romp with a killer soundtrack. The series' familiar fast-paced gameplay shines in this exploration-heavy adventure. Memories of Celceta is a bit on the easy side, and I wish its story would've gone on longer, though I still had a blast mapping out the forest and recovering all of Adol's lost memories. Falcom is in a prime position to nail their next Ys title, whether it's a remake of Ys V or (fingers crossed) the long-overdue Ys Eight.

3) Tales of Xillia (PS3)
I've never played a Tales game I didn't like (yes, even Legendia), so I was assured that I would enjoy Xillia before I even started it. It sports some of my favorite character designs in the entire franchise, as well as a super-catchy opening theme that makes me smile every time it comes up in my music library. The combat system is easily on par with Graces', and linking characters together for special attacks is like a high-speed Chrono Trigger daydream brought to life. Xillia 2 is one of many games I'm eagerly anticipating next year.

2) The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)
If you know anything about my fanatical love of Falcom, you might be surprised that I placed this game above an Ys title. When I heard that Nintendo was developing a sequel to my all-time favorite Zelda game, I was cautiously optimistic, but I feared its tight gameplay might be lost in the transition to 3D. I could not have been more wrong. A Link Between Worlds is a rare example of an essentially flawless video game. It executes perfectly on every single one of its features, runs smoothly, controls precisely, and never slows the player down with tutorials or superfluous dialogue. There was not a moment during my playthrough of ALBW when I felt disengaged for any reason, and that is a seriously praiseworthy accomplishment in game design.

1) Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (PC)
I have gushed and gushed and gushed about this game. It is a labor of love from a superbly talented development team headed by a passionate director whose drive is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Its visuals are lush, technically impressive, and unmatched by just about any game out there. Its soundtrack is rich, varied, and dynamic. Its list of features is already extraordinarily lengthy for an MMORPG that's only a few months out of the gate. I'm sure my Emerald Shield compatriots will agree that few gaming experiences this year can compare to the fun we've had exploring Eorzea together. Final Fantasy XIV has earned its Roman Numeral, and I won't hear any words to the contrary.

Best Non-RPG
The Last of Us
I cried several times during this game, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. It combines the bombastic action of Uncharted with a character-driven, highly emotional story that wowed me in a way AAA blockbusters rarely manage to do. I don't want to see TLoU expanded into a huge series and milked to death, but I certainly wouldn't say no to a sequel on the PS4.

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