Best PS2-era RPG of the Year and Also 2011:
Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition
I really like Dragon Quest VIII. I like Dragon Quest VIII so much, it became my golden standard for JRPGs and nurtured my obsession with PS2-era JRPGs. Their overarching scope, the broad variety of game mechanics, and the hardcore biblical scale of their stories hooked me like a fish on a line — but something was always missing. It was the sense of nostalgia Dragon Quest VIII had given me before I had any reason to feel nostalgic for it. I was looking for an epic with warmth and a sense of wonder. When Xenoblade Chronicles initially released on the Wii almost ten years ago, it flew completely under my radar and out of the grasp of my wallet. When the Definitive Edition released earlier this year (if you can believe it), my friends hounded me to play it. Within minutes of moving Shulk around Colony 9, talking to NPCs to create affinity chart connections, and hopping in and out of combat seamlessly while completing side quests, it hit me. “Oh my god. This is the PS2 game I’ve been searching for my entire life.” Xenoblade has novel game systems which do more to satisfy your own agency in the game’s world than give you statistical advantages. Xenoblade subverts cliché narrative expectations without becoming predictable — with gratifying results. Xenoblade isn’t just an amazing RPG with a thoughtful narrative and spectacular combat. It captures the essence of a true fantasy. It’s a combination of dreamlike whimsy and tribulations, and it scratched a ten-year-old itch for a long-gone era.
Best Sisyphean Task:
If Sisyphus could see people play Hades, he’d have himself a good chuckle. And he can because he’s in the game! Hades is the latest from Supergiant Games, and I believe it will be remembered as a classic in the years to come. It captures a nuanced discussion about dysfunction, growth, and reconciliation. As it turns out, working through complicated pasts and tense relationships can often feel like a repetitive task, but Hades stresses how much stronger we become by doing so. I also can’t stop playing Hades. At all. I get a couple of runs in every night, and sometimes I wake up in the morning and decide a great warm-up to my day is a few runs aaaaaaaaand suddenly it’s two o’ clock at night. Your ever-growing arsenal of weaponry provides so many playstyles to experiment with, the constantly shifting rooms of the underworld can often surprise you with a challenge you may not be accustomed to navigating, and defeat is often a chance to invest in making yourself stronger. It’s a wonderful way of empowering players for trying — whether or not they succeed. What at times feels like a sisyphean task can in truth be a slow climb to a better standard of living, and Hades wants to ensure we never forget it.
Best Re-Release of a Re-Release Previously Exclusive to a Single Console:
Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition
Alternatively the “Best Game With an Incredibly Long Title Even as an Acronym,” DQXIS:EEA – DE is the (so far) latest rendition of Dragon Quest XI, one of my favorite games of all time and coincidentally my new favorite tongue twister. Dragon Quest XI‘s original release left me in happy tears. I was so swollen with feelings from the heartwarming bonds and positive encouragements for the future, you’d think I was crying from a severe allergic reaction. I immediately got attached to the party I adventured with, and as the second final credits rolled, I was overwhelmed with joy and wanted more. Dragon Quest XI S promised to provide it: more cutscenes about my favorite characters during a segment in Act II where the party is inaccessible, as well as 2D sections from the 3DS version of the original release, which was only available in Japan. The only issue with DQXI S was its exclusivity to the Nintendo Switch, but Square Enix soon corrected this by porting it to other consoles and PC. Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition truly deserves the suffix, with quality of life improvements to alchemy and overworld exploration, and an extra fast option for battles. What was already an amazing game is now even better and more accessible to players who’ve yet to experience it. It almost feels unfair to give Dragon Quest XI another commendation considering how long it’s been out, but there was no other contender for this incredibly specific award. Congratulations to our nominee for winning such a prestigious accolade!