So here we are, almost mid-way through December. You may have already been subjected to the aural horror of supermarket Christmas music, the cacaphonous drone of a bunch of below average voices passing themselves off as carol singers or maybe you even checked out Leona Lewis' 'My Hands' to brace yourself for the launch of Final Fantasy XIII. Whatever your seasonal poison this year, there's no escaping the impending turkey rush and that's not even including the Two Worlds 2 announcement. Ok, I should probably stop wailing on that game now, but it amuses me so.
Last week, I counted down to six in my top 10 RPGs to watch out for in 2010 looking ahead to what will be a great year for RPG fans. With the likes of Final Fantasy XIV, Fable III, Infinite Space, Phantasy Star Zero and White Knight Chronicles already on my increasingly expensive hitlist, it's time to make like an acolyte of Cowell and head for number one. 'Hang on to your pants and don't piss in 'em' as Cid Highwind would say, here we go, my most hotly anticpated RPGs of 2010.
5. Golden Sun DS - Nintendo DS - Late 2010
A lot of people will disagree with me here, but Golden Sun and Golden Sun: The Lost Age were in my book, two of the only reasons to own a Gameboy Advance (like Weird Al, I just don't do Pokemon ok?!). While being about as traditional as an RPG can get, there was something charming about that little band of adepts and later on, that little band of would-be adept thwarters so I was delighted, as were most fans I would imagine, to hear the series would be coming to Nintendo DS complete with a brand new 3D engine some time in 2010.
Try looking for details anywhere and they're pretty sketchy. This is largely due to the fairly pointless ten second game play demo on offer at this year's E3 where the game was announced. Reports state that you take control of Isaac's (the protagonist from Golden Sun) son in the fantasy world of Weyard. Djinn are back (Fire, Earth, Water, Wind) as well as old favourites Atalanta and Rameses.
Game play will be possible with either the stylus or the control pad - nothing new there, though the way the media have been clamouring for tidbits on Golden Sun DS you'd think it was - and battles will play out from the familiar behind-the-party view the series is known for. It seems a logical assumption that more details will be released in the run up to E3 2010 with perhaps a big announcement at the show itself. For now though, steel yourself Golden Sun fans, if this releases in 2010 it could be among the contenders for RPG of the year.
4. Demon's Souls - PS3 - PAL release unconfirmed.
Ok, if you're American or Japanese and you're reading this, you're probably all like 'pfft Demon's Souls was so 2009', well yes, for you, it was. For us, and I reiterate, stuck here in gaming's third world for RPGs, Demon's Souls still doesn't have a UK release date or indeed a European publisher willing to take what they might describe as a 'risk' but what I can only really term as an 'easy win'. The UK import reviews are in, Eurogamer - 9/10, Games TM 10/10, Edge - 9/10, from traditionally harsh reviewers so this isn't so much a preview as it is a plea to a UK publisher, a Tecmo Koei, a 505, a Rising Star, or whoever, to pick this game up and release it in Europe. You will not be sorry.
I played Demon's Souls at E3. At first, I hated it, I wanted to rip the fixed controller from the pod and hurl it at the Atlus booth babes trudging begrudgingly around the Trauma Team section. Sure, they looked great in their nurses outfits - just look how happy this guy was - but could they answer me my questions three? No they could not. I huffed and puffed, dying, growing increasingly more frustrated until a kindly member of staff with some prior knowledge of this gaming enigma came to my aid. He explained it all to me: the economy of fallen souls, the community element of warning fellow players of hazards, the necessity of perseverance and patience over rushing into battle, how I needed to learn from my mistakes. In hindsight, he could have been offering me some sound life advice.
Demon's Souls is punishing, really punishing. Make a mistake and you will die. But smart gamers will learn and progress a little further. Then they will die again. And learn again. This is not a game that anyone can pick up and get on with, if you think playing a Final Fantasy game makes you a hardcore gamer for example, then this isn't for you. Demon's Souls is a revolutionary approach to the dungeon crawling genre and it simply must get a European release. Failure to comply would signify the kind of short sightedness I'd only expect from a publisher who thought Two Worlds should get a sequel...ok, sorry, really I'll stop that now. Import it if you can, otherwise, join me in a short prayer.
3. Mass Effect 2 - PC, Xbox 360 - 29th January
If you read the first part of my countdown, you'll already know what I like but in case you didn't, I like Sci Fi and RPGs and the first Mass Effect represented for me, the pinnacle of Sci Fi RPGs. Exploration of planets, interaction with alien races (...with sexy results) and saving the human race from extinction at the hands of legions of pissed off robots with the kind of open ended gameplay Bioware have built their illustrious reputation on. The game received critical acclaim and rightly so. A sequel was as inevitable as the rising of the sun.
Early teasers trailers suggested that Commander Shephard would die in Mass Effect 2, however Bioware have since revealed that it will be the player's choices which will determine Commander Shepherds eventual fate. Those who enjoyed the first game will be able to transfer their save games over to Mass Effect 2 and their choices previously will have an impact. The story will centre around the mysterious disappearance of human colonies at the hands of an insectoid race known as the 'Collectors' as Shepherd rounds up some hardcore intergalactic heavies to take them on. More importantly, you'll be able to visit the Asari homeworld and fill your boots with blue skinned lovelies! Excellent.
The gameplay has been tweaked too with collectible ammunition and replacable heat-sinks in and overheating weaponry out, medi-gel takes a bow in favour of the new regenerative health syste and the AI has been upgraded too. Apparently the baddies will crawl along the floor when downed still trying to kill you. I don't know about you but insects give me the creeps on any given day, insectoid aliens that won't quit when you shoot them in the face worries me a lot more. Don't forget to register your copy of Dragon Age: Origins online either, as it will afford you a snazzy piece of armour in Mass Effect 2. Aren't Bioware wonderful?
2. Resonance of Fate - PS3, Xbox 360 - Late 2010?
Bloody SEGA. I think this is the third game in my top 10 they're releasing next year. I can't remember the last time I was seriously excited about any SEGA game bar Football Manager (and I mean seriously excited) and here I am poring over their 2010 release schedule like it was a naked picture of Sarah Michelle Gellar. Developed by tri-Ace, who lets face it, has had recent projects met with a mixture of scorn and disappointment - step up Star Ocean: The Last Hope and Infinite Undiscovery but who are also renowned for truly amazing RPGs such as Valkyrie Profile, the orginal Star Ocean and Radiata Stories. They hope that ditching Square Enix for SEGA will help them to appeal to a broader Western audience as producer Jun Yoshino admitted to Eurogamer earlier this year.
Resonance of Fate at a first glance does nothing to support that claim; it's Steampunk, it has random battles and looks every bit the JRPG. To be honest, that doesn't really bother me. Lost Odyssey was similar in those respects and has gone down as one of my favourite RPGs ever. The game is set around a huge clockwork tower structure called 'Basel' which has been built to purify the poisonous air around it which almost wiped out the human race. The reasons for this downturn in the fortunes of humanity is unknown but I'm sure you'll work it out as you go along. The protagonists include three mercenaries, Zephyr, Vashyron and Reanbell in addition to a mysterious young woman known as Subject #20. She grew up in a research lab and was genetically modified to expire on her 20th birthday. How very, very Blade Runner. Awesome. The three mercenaries are hired by the upper classes, who live towards the top of the tower, to carry out missions in the monster infested lower echelons of Basel.
Combat will be free flowing and ballistic based, loads of bullet dodging and hyper-cinematic gunplay crossed with martial arts. Movement around the combat area will be determined by characters individual action points so there is a degree of strategy involved here too. Hurling missiles such as grenades and molotovs should add extra depth too. The map system is Hexagonal and requires you to unlock and place new pieces of it into your own map to open up new areas of the world which is an interesting take on an area of the genre that struggles to innovate. What excites me most about Resonance of Fate though, is the environment, cogs and clocks everywhere you go, the upper classes being more aware of this functionality being pivotal to humanity's survival while the ill informed underclasses maintain a deeply religious outlook comparative of Paley's watchmaker argument. It's that juxtaposition set over it's Steampunk backdrop complete with gunplay and intrigue that makes Resonance of Fate my second most eagerly anticipated RPG of next year. C'mon tri-Ace, time to come out the RPG quality closet and make another amazing game.
1. Final Fantasy XIII - Xbox 360, PS3 - 9th March
Well, I was either going to be intensely pretentious and leave the obvious one out of my top ten or give it its rightful place at number one. Why is this my most eagerly anticipated game of the year? Simple really. I've been clamouring around for every tid-bit of information for three years. I've been creaming my pants at every new trailer for three years. I've been waiting for a release date to be confirmed for three years, and now finally, it's been announced. The latest in arguably the best (definitely the most successful) RPG series ever will hit European shores on the 9th March and will probably make back most of the money that Square Enix cleverly spent/wasted (delete as appropriate) acquiring Eidos earlier this year.
Final Fantasy plots tend be quite tricky to sum up in a paragraph. Part of the reason that makes them so good is each part of the plot and corresponding sub-plot is always told with such expertise that it sometimes becomes tricky to mentally log every twist and turn you experience. I'll give it a Basch though, geddit? Ah, shoot me. Final Fantasy XIII centres around the l'Cie, a group of individuals with a mission in life known as a 'Focus' set by the fal'Cie who I've read are god-like beings created by crystals residing within them. Anyway, the fal'Cie created Cocoon, a paradise above the clouds for humans to live in away from the taint of Pulse (the planet's surface). Anyone caught visiting Pulse is immediately quarantined and then exiled, something our heroine, Lightning, is none too fond of. She and travelling companion, Szah set about liberating a train full of these exiled degenerates in a move against the oppression at the beginning of the game. This sets off a chain reaction of events which lead to them becoming l'Cies at the hands of Pulse's Fal'Cie. Against their will they become enemies of humanity and must set about bringing down the theocratic order of Cocoon in order to save the masses. And breathe. Undoubtedly, a lot of details have been missed...
Final Fantasy XIII boasts a new combat system which mixes the tried and tested ATB (Active Time Battles) with a command queue system enabling players to line up a variety of combos only limited by your time gauge. Players will be able to switch between characters via the Paradigm Shift system, an enhancement to the game play that was brought in relatively late in development. Your other party members will act autonomously in battle based on specific situations. You'll level up via the Crystarium system which has been compared to the sphere system in FFX and that should afford a sufficient level of customisation to develop your party members as you would like. There are loads more features to mention, the summons have two modes, regular and Gestalt which affect battles in different ways, I haven't even touched on the characters and my three paragraph summary goes nowhere near getting across my personal excitement about this game. Just buy it ok. It'll be really, really good. Square Enix promised me it would be and they only lied to me once when they told me Ergheiz would revolutionise the fighting genre. I'm over that now though, all is forgiven.
So that's it, my top 10 for 2010. Final Fantasy XIII is undoubtedly the must-own RPG of next year for me but in contrast to previous FF years, it's competition is incredibly fierce. I've got no real doubts that due to it's following it will come out on top sales wise but whether it earns the accolade of most critically acclaimed RPG of 2010, remains to be seen.
Next up, top 10 RPGs of the decade. Any suggestions?