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Game of the Year 2011

Dennis Rubinshteyn's Awards
5) Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together (PSP)
After Devil Survivor (and later its enhanced port), I hadn't been engaged by an S-RPG until Tactics Ogre. While the story isn't terribly engrossing, the gameplay is immensely fun and an excellent example of how to remake an old game. Square-Enix really did a good job of keeping all the core elements and visuals of the original intact while heavily revamping the gameplay to reduce tedium, not to mention enhancing the music. On top of that, they incorporated some new gameplay mechanics, which serve as great additions to an already solid game. The main game is quite long, and with multiple paths and a ton of side content, you can easily clock in over 100 hours.

4) The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii)
Admittedly, I never was a big fan of Twilight Princess. Objectively, it was a good game with some interesting moments, but it never clicked with me like other Zelda games did, especially the 2D ones. Skyward Sword seemed promising, but I didn't look into it much to keep personal hype low, but when I did play it, I was impressed right from the get-go. It's still the same Zelda game we know and love, but one that makes changes to the formula to freshen things up, which worked out for the better. The combat controls take some getting used to, but feel very intuitive after some practice. The combat feels way more involved, and it's been a while since I looked forward to boss fights so much. Surprisingly, I even got into the story this time around, enjoying the Link and Zelda interactions, and I'm interested enough to know what will happen next. Also, it might just be my guilty pleasure for campy, crazy villains, but Skyward Sword's villain is quite awesome, and he really stands out amongst the whole series.

3) Pokémon Black & White (DS)
Despite being in my mid-20s, I still have fun with Pokémon games. The core formula remains the same since the first game, but that's what I expect, and that's what I still enjoy. I like exploring the new region, capturing new Pokémon, beating the eight gym leaders, and taking on the Pokémon league to become supreme champion. Even then, Nintendo manages to make small, but super effective changes to further refine an already great formula. Black and White are a bit on the easy side, and there could've been some more content, but it's a great start to a new Pokémon generation. I feel I won't tire of Pokémon games for a long while.

2) Radiant Historia (DS)
First-party Atlus games have been consistently great, and Radiant Historia is no exception. The story concept is very novel, I liked the characters, and the combat is interesting too. I was blown away by the soundtrack as well, which is currently my favorite Shimomura album to date. There are times when the game rehashes content too often, but it's still a great JRPG through and through. It hits all the right notes, and it only makes me sadder that there have been fewer and fewer quality JRPGs, even on handhelds.

1) The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky (PSP)
I've heard great things about the Trails games from the import scene for years, so I was stoked when XSEED finally brought the game over. Fortunately, it lived up to my expectations and much more. TitS excels at character development and interactivity so well with a fun, likable cast and excellent NPC interaction that changes up frequently. The game starts slow, but once it does, I was completely hooked, staying up until the middle of the night just to know what happens next. It's also been a very long time since an ending left such a huge impact on me, and rarely does a game make me extremely anxious to play a sequel. It may not do anything unique or innovative like some of the games I've listed, but what it does, it does really well. It's a very fun game with a ton of heart. This is the epitome of why I still adore JRPGs to this day.

Best RPG Soundtrack of 2011
Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together (PSP)
Technically, this soundtrack was released late last year, but it gained a lot more exposure, domestically, this year. Like the game itself, this is also an excellent example of how to revamp a soundtrack for modern audiences. It greatly expands upon the original songs while remaining faithful to the source material. Other than that, the songs are simply great and memorable, moreso than a lot of other soundtracks. Even though I'm not into a lot of Sakimoto's modern soundtracks, his older works are certainly gems, both old and new versions.

Best RPG from 2010 played in 2011
9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors (DS)
If I had played this just a week before the previous RPGFan Game of the Year awards, this would've easily made my top five. 999 is a very engrossing graphic adventure with a suspenseful plot and cool characters that hooked me from start to finish, and I plowed through all the endings in mere days. This is the kind of game RPG fans need to try themselves to understand how good it is, since it's all about the story. I feel that Aksys has finally found their niche in the RPG market and should capitalize on it more. Perhaps they should bring the 360 port of Ever 17?

Biggest RPG Disappointment of 2011
Rune Factory Tides of Destiny (PS3/Wii)
Having loved Rune Factory 3 last year, Tides of Destiny feels like a huge step backwards from its predecessor in nearly every aspect. There is a greater focus on combat and dungeon crawling, but everything else felt stripped down because of it. The townsfolk are bland, exploration is tedious, you have no control over farming, and the interface is rough. Even the gameplay mechanics it emphasizes have their own share of problems too. I also thought Natsume finally nailed the localization with their great job on Rune Factory 3, but that got botched too with Tides' dry dialogue, noticeable typos, and bad voice acting. I really hope Rune Factory 4 can redeem the series and carry on the spirit of the third game. Just what the heck happened in the development and localization to make it sink so low?

Overall Awards
Traditional RPG Action RPG Graphic Adventure Strategy RPG Indie RPG Downloadable RPG Mobile Downloadable Content (DLC)
And the winner is...
Best RPG of 2011
Editors' Picks
Abraham Ashton Liu Andrew Barker Dave Yeager Derek Heemsbergen Dennis Rubinshteyn Eric Farand John McCarroll Kimberley Wallace Kyle E. Miller Liz Maas Mike Salbato Neal Chandran Robert Steinman Stephen Meyerink


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