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Honorable Mentions

Below are games that I had also enjoyed but didn’t quite make the cut above for a number of reasons. That doesn’t mean that they’re “bad,” just that for me, they didn’t quite come together in the same way despite enjoying what they brought to the table. There might even be a few here that you think should replace one or two of the ones above. Let me know!

Nier

“You’ve been wearing the same shitty clothes since I met you.”

Nier has a pretty big arsenal of dangerous, sharp things with which to wreck enemies with.

Above: Nier has a pretty big arsenal of dangerous, sharp things and skills with which to wreck enemies.

Developer Cavia’s stories have always been known for bizarre twists and turns and for bringing together characters strange and ordinary. Nier is no exception, starring who might be the world’s toughest father, a talking book professing to be the key to ultimate power, and a number of other fascinating faces met through the course of the game. It also has an ending (one of several) where, if the player decides to sacrifice Nier’s life to save his daughter’s, it wipes the memory of who they were from the world — along with the save file!

The world of Nier can also be as creative as the characters despite the plain visuals, especially when a special event in the game goes text-only. Finally, a moody and awe-inspiring set of music tracks set with stirring vocals complements the simple hack-n-slash action. It’s worth playing through if only because of the story and a soundtrack that often seems too big for the game it scores.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiDI4GZMVF0&w=420&h=315]


Lost Odyssey

“If there’s any place a soul would go, it’s in your memories. People you remember are with you forever.”

Lost Odyssey's slow burn meant that things didn't pick up for me until more than a few hours in. Also, Jansen.

Above: Lost Odyssey’s slow burn meant that things didn’t pick up for me until more than a few hours in. It also meant that I had to put up with Jansen. But the skill-learning system opened up plenty of options with which to empower my immortal crew.

Writer Hironobu Sakaguchi wanted to make a game that would make players cry, and while the Xbox 360 exclusive Lost Odyssey might not have left every critic misty-eyed, the attention paid to the text stories — found along the way as “memories” of the immortal protagonist Kaim — added an atmospheric layer to his characterization.

It took awhile for me to warm up to this one, but after the second disc, I finally hit my stride with the gameplay as the story also began gaining momentum, making it a solid and surprisingly intimate title from the designer who gave us Final Fantasy.


Tales of Vesperia

“Humans will not let something go once it is in their grasp.”

Namco Bandai's cel shaded skills were put on display with Vesperia's real-time combat system and titanic world.

Above: Namco Bandai’s cel-shaded skills were put on display with Vesperia’s combat system. Or in simply walking around the huge world and its numerous destinations, which ranged from a big city to a town surrounding a giant tree.

The long-running Tales series has had its ups and downs, but Vesperia in 2008 was definitely one of its shining moments for me.

An atypically “older” protagonist and a group of charming characters coupled with a fast combat system and an interesting skill system tied to equipment all added depth to customizing each character’s strengths in fun ways. Tales of Vesperia also boasted a typically lengthy quest, a great “villain” with his own story, and a wide, open world with its own secrets to dig up. While it was an Xbox 360 exclusive in the West, a PS3 version with enhanced content was released as a Japan-only title.


Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

Animated wonderland

Ni No Kuni's world is pure eye candy, especially if you're a fan of Studio Ghibli's work.

Above: Ni No Kuni’s world is pure eye candy for fans of Studio Ghibli.

Studio Ghibli doesn’t usually loan its talents to games in as big a way as it did with Ni No Kuni, but the result was a title loaded with incredible visuals layered atop a story that could have passed as a film direct from its master animators.

As for the gameplay, Ni No Kuni’s was something of a mixed bag, merging a Pokémon-like collect-a-thon with incredibly dodgy A.I. and limited options with which to work. But for fans of Studio Ghibli’s work, that was something glossed over to get at the parts that worked well — a fairytale brought to life, with special tournaments, hunts, and a wide variety of characters pushing your party toward the incredible climax and memorable ending.


Resonance of Fate

“If you’re gonna point a gun at someone, make sure you know who you’re dealing with.”

Civilization was nestled in between giant, rusting gears, iron stairwells, and gunkata styled combat.

Above: What is left of civilization is nestled between giant, rusting gears, iron stairwells, fashion shops, and enough gun-fu to make Chow Yun-Fat blush.

Developer Tri-Ace and Sega’s gun-blazing title from 2010 featured a real-time combo system of gun-fu that made use of special ammo types, customizable weapons, and unique attacks that shot up the backdrop of a steampunk city vertically rising from a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Resonance of Fate’s charm lay in both its trio of characters and its lead-lined gameplay, which also came with something of a learning curve. Still, this role-playing bullet ballet easily stands out as a visually stylish and challenging system set within an intriguing setting that’s backed by solid tracks and commentary by the heroes after every fight.