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Best RPG of 2014 Nominees
Developed by Silicon Studio & Square Enix
Published by Square Enix & Nintendo
Released February 7, 2014
Available on Nintendo 3DS
Bravely Default - Nintendo 3DS
The success of this handheld title single-handedly convinced Square Enix to pursue more traditional JRPGs again. That fact alone should give this game an award, but that only happened because Bravely Default is an excellently designed romp in traditional turn-based combat and colorful characters.
Bravely Default gives you more freedom and choices to make in the combat itself. While the game is an otherwise traditional turn-based system, there are two additional commands outside of the ones your used to seeing. Default allows you to store up your action for the turn while also defending yourself. In tandem, Braves let you take multiple actions during that turn, even going into the negatives, but you'll have to wait out the deficit. It's a clever addition that forces you to balance when your characters are going all out, or when you want to keep them reactive. There are a lot of subtle interactions worth chaining together too, like say an ability that increases your damage for that turn.
It doesn't take long to get the gist of what Bravely Default is attempting to do. The game seeks to be a bridge between old-school JRPGs of yesteryear and the modern social mechanics available to it on the 3DS. Sometimes this comes to bare in odd ways, like a completely unnecessary and throwaway inclusion of microtransactions, but thankfully none of this compromises the core game. Bravely Default is a damn-near perfect throwback to games like Final Fantasy in all but the name.
Dark Souls II
Developed by From Software
Published by Bandai Namco Games
Released March 11, 2014.
Available on PS3, PC (April 25th) and Xbox 360
Dark Souls II - Playstation 3
From Software makes some of the most difficult - and terrifyingly satisfying - RPGs in the business. Dark Souls II continues the tradition of rewarding the diligent, patient and sometimes just damn lucky player, and it deserves its place among the best of the year.
Everything that made Dark Souls into a cult success carries over: complex game mechanics, punishing but fair gameplay and a richly detailed setting if you dig a little deeper. To keep things fresh, this is peppered with a mix of new elements, from improved graphics and game engine to a better designed starting sequence and new mechanics. Dark Souls II is a perfect sequel to Dark Souls.
Dark Souls II is also littered with a number of smaller gameplay changes that really come together to improve the experience overall. Enemy AI is noticeably smarter, certainly far less prone from falling off things and plummeting to their deaths. The first time you realize you can't use this to your advantage any more is going to be a bit of an "oh crap" moment.
Dragon Age Inquisition
Developed by BioWare
Published by Electronic Arts
Released November 18, 2014
Available on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Dragon Age Inquisition - Xbox One
It took BioWare long enough, but the veteran RPG designer was busy making a monument to everything players love about huge, sweeping epic fantasy stories. The third Dragon Age is one of the year's best games, but it deserves special accolades for how it allows you to play the role you want to play.
The story is full of twists and reveals - often referencing previous Dragon Age games and DLC. An important meeting between the Templars of the Chantry and the Mages who rebelled against them in Dragon Age II is disrupted by a huge explosion and your character is the only one there who survived. Finding out how and why takes up the bulk of the plot, but there are some interesting discoveries as to the nature of the darkspawn adversaries in Origin and the religion of the Chantry as a whole.
The new healing system does create a nice feeling of exploration and, well, occupation. The areas you explore in Inquisition are gigantic. According to the materials provided by BioWare, the first open area you encounter, the Hinterlands, is bigger than the total explorable area in Origins and Dragon Age II combined. Now, bigger is not always better, but what these huge areas give the player is a sense of the growing power and influence of the Inquisition.
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