Monday, 2 January 2012

RenegadeFox's Games of the Year 2011

While I try to get the Infinite Undiscovery article some content (I'm working on it, if a little (rather, a LOT) slower now that I've got some more games to play), I thought I'd start 2012 with what I felt are GOTY-quality games that I played. Frankly, my library of 2011-released titles is pretty limited, for my lack of being able to fund such a venture as to buy near enough ALL of them to give a full opinion on, but I have the advantage of going GAMEfest in September, where I saw and played some of the upcoming games (at the time) of 2011. Not only that, but the games that have been released are ones that I know friends have played and have seen them playing, so I do at least know where I stand with some of the games that I haven't played.

Now I can't help but be biased in my selection; after all, I am dominantly an RPG gamer and don't venture off that set path too far, but thanks to Square Enix flopping last year with Final Fantasy XIII (I'll get to that soon), I have been wandering from RPGs to play some of the other titles that were released.

There's just NO way I can say specifically what game is THE best of the year, which is why I gave the title of this article a plural rather than singular; what I'm going for is games that I thoroughly enjoyed playing, what had a story I could really get in to and what didn't resort to weak single player experiences just to release a multiplayer game. (*hint*hint* You know who you are *coughactivisioncough*)

So let's get started!

Xenoblade Chronicles
Developer: Monolithsoft
Console: Nintendo Wii

This game, in my opinion, is what has given JRPGs new life, and in 2012, I'm looking forward to seeing how well Pandora's Tower and The Last Story do when they are released over here. It's almost like Monolithsoft saw what Square Enix produced last year and realised what they were doing wrong when it comes to 'westernising' JRPGs. Square took all the wrong qualities of a linear world that you can't explore, and buried the plot deep under a mound of awful attempts at trying to make the game good. You have a lot of explosions and 'badass' moments in FFXIII that make it just a little stupid; especially when the plot actually had some potential. While Xenoblade Chronicles comes along and says, "This is exactly how an epic, world-saving adventure of the RPG genre should be!" and delivers that very thing.

With a story that grips you with characters that you can actually care about (since they're actually developed early in the game, and as you acquire them), a huge world ripe with brilliant challenges at every turn and a great combat system that brings out the more strategic aspects of the RPG genre, while keeping the action fast-paced, this is certainly a game that everyone should get to play, and I'm happy that Nintendo of America have seen the light-- even if it is a limited run, at the moment. It's a game that, in my opinion, revitalised the JRPG genre.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Consoles: PC, PS3, X360

Now there is one thing I will admit outright; until not long ago, I wasn't really a fan of Western RPGs, primarily because I wasn't all that comfortable with them. Though go figure, huh? The one person who is writing a story that would pretty much turn out as an RPG, with a Western mind, and I'm not comfortable with Western RPGs.

That changed when I played Dragon Age: Origins though, back in 2009, but I didn't buy another one until Skyrim came out over 2 years later. You can chalk it up to my lack of comparison to others of its type, but I have to say that Skyrim is probably THE biggest game of 2011, and is likely a purchase inspired by not just friends, but the visit I gave the Bethesda booth at GAMEfest, as well. We didn't get to actually play the game at that point though, but from what they demonstrated, I was sold on the game. Something else I respect about them at GAMEfest was that they were BIG, but not obnoxiously so. But that's beside the point.

The fact that you can explore the generously large province of Skyrim to its entirety, go from the lowest valley to the highest mountaintop and back down the other side gives the game a huge scale of adventure, and with the many dungeons, quests and mysteries to unlock, you really feel like you're accomplishing something. Especially so when you take down a fierce dragon raining flames over you and the town guards!

Now because I've been filling the ambition of explorer in my game, rather than really progressing the story of Skyrim, I can't comment on how it fares in proportion to the rest of the game, but you can tell that Bethesda really wanted to take this game in a major detailed path, and they have done that-- even if there are some pretty heavy bugs, and issues with the PS3 version that eventually render a save file unplayable, at the moment. If there is any game that I would like to represent the capabilities of the Western game development studios for 2011, Skyrim would definitely be that title.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Developer: Nintendo
Console: Nintendo Wii

The Legend of Zelda series is probably one of the most successful franchises Nintendo has under their belt, for how long it has been going. From the original game released on the NES to Twilight Princess on the Wii, Nintendo have always been able to bring us a grand adventure, with everyone's favourite green tunic-wearing, Hylian protagonist leading the charge.

As the game that pretty much solidified the 25th anniversary of the franchise, Skyward Sword likely had a huge amount of pressure on it to really be as good as, if not better than what many have come to class as the staple game of the series; Ocarina of Time. In my opinion, it has met that mark and gone beyond; the story is beautiful in it's execution and the gameplay has pretty much (likely) set the new standard for all future titles of the franchise. The customisation of equipment makes it feel more like an adventure game, making you seek out items so that you can make your shields, transportation equipment and even your bow to make them more powerful and effective in their use.

Though I would have to say that where Skyward Sword shines brightest is it's story; as an origin story (which it quite obviously is; at least until they bring out another prequel), it plays very strongly, leaving you satisfied, but wanting more at the same time. Rather than using the standards with its main characters, Zelda holds a position as a childhood friend (kind of like in Minish Cap, only less hyperactive and more protective) and stands as the daughter of the headmaster of the Knights Academy of Skyloft-- no princess status here, eh?

Skyward Sword, if not a Game of the Year, certainly stands as one of the best innovated franchises of the year; sure, it plays as the same type of game as its other titles, but it brings in new life to it, refreshing it from how it used to be to how it currently is, and potentially how it will be going into the future.

Sadly, this is where my stock of GOTY games stops; I've played a fairly limited number of games this year, so I can't really say what else would stand out in that way. I have Uncharted 3 sure, but I've not played a lot of it yet; once I started on Skyrim, it pinned me down with its epicness, and I've been playing it ever since-- amidst the family distractions of the holiday season, that is.

I'll probably add more to this article or make a new article of the games that I didn't play once I've played them, but probably not. I feel like I'm just rambling now, so I'll stop here and carry on playing Skyrim. Just take what I've noted with these games with a grain of salt; I am prone to biased opinions-- especially when it comes to games that have a stupidly large fanbase (*coughactivisionagaincough*), but hey! That's what GOTY is all about, right?

Next will probably be a list of games I'm eagerly anticipating for 2012, so if anyone is interested in that, keep your eyes peeled for the next few days, 'cause it won't be (as) long from now that I'll be posting it!

Here's hoping that 2012 is a good year for gaming.

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