4) Pokémon X/Y (3DS)
Although not quite as much of a revolution as some claim, Pokémon X and Y are still among the best in the series. The graphical overhaul frees the franchise from its simpler, more claustrophobic roots and makes X and Y feel like the first real sequels to Red and Blue.
3) Etrian Odyssey IV (3DS)
It's a wonder to find a JRPG I can play to completion. More so than even SMT IV, Etrian Odyssey IV is my favorite traditional JRPG of the year. The absence of a story actually works in the game's favor, as there are no inane cut-scenes to keep the player from those fast, hard, sweet battles. What makes those battles so awesome? Impeccable character progression. The strategies and synergistic relationships between classes and their respective special attacks are perfect. When characters can be developed like this, every battle is a joy. There are few ways for me to love turn-based battles these days, but this is one of them.
2) The Dark Eye: Memoria (PC)
So I had a hand in making this one. At the risk of seeming arrogant, however, it's one of the best of the year. The main narrative is wonderful, as are the many puzzles and the beautiful hand-drawn backdrops. The characters take surprising turns in their arcs, and the themes of the story are close to my heart. Memoria challenges our nostalgia in an age when Golden Age thinking seems to rule our hearts.
1) The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)
In the darkness of a video game drought — my passion for games dwindling to a record low — there came a tiny gleam. It was the sun catching the bright metal of the Master Sword, ensconced in its meadow altar. A Link Between Worlds reinvigorated my love for video games and for the franchise. After the hit-and-miss Skyward Sword and the deplorable Spirit Tracks, I was ready to give up on The Legend of Zelda. A Link Between Worlds is just what the series needed: a creative, colorful, nonlinear labyrinth of secrets, dungeons, and gorgeous combat complete with the best 3D effects I've seen.
Bioshock Infinite (PC). The Last of Us (PS3). Papers, Please (PC). Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (PC).
Bioshock Infinite is the most fun I've had playing a game this year and has perhaps more facets to its story and lore than any other game. I have an incredibly complex relationship with The Last of Us. My sister's undying passion for the game made me reconsider something I might not have given much thought otherwise. This is a game that tells just the kind of story we need, something that teaches us how to be more human. Papers, Please does something similar, imbuing the player with new-found empathy for the masses and for the powerless, yet superficially empowered gatekeeper. The game begs the question: who are you really working for? Brothers exists solely to be beautiful and evoke emotion, and I have immense respect for that. Bioshock Infinite made me feel redeemed for all the lives I've ever taken in a video game, The Last of Us fortified the strength of my love, Papers, Please enhanced my empathy, and Brothers made me cry. These are games of the year.
May Geralt come riding in on a white steed to redeem this dark year.