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I have wanted to write my first blog post for a very long time. Though I have read many of the user and editor blogs here on Game Informer, I have never written one myself. Since this is my first blog, I knew I wanted to write something to introduce myself and I realized presenting my favorite games of 2011was probably one of the best ways to do just that.
For the past month or so I've been constantly reevaluating my personal top 10 favorite games of last year. As my favorite games of the year, the ten games I chose aren't necessarily the best games of 2011, but rather are games that really resonated with me and ones that I ultimately enjoyed the most. To limit it down, all of the games on this list had to come out in 2011 and I needed to have finished the game for it to be eligible. The two rules throw out a couple of awesome games, like the Team Ico Collection and Skyrim for example, but I want the list to focus on what made 2011 special and I want to make sure I don't talk about a game I haven't fully formed my opinions on.
Before I get started I do want to give two honorable mentions. Portal 2 is essentially the 11th game on this list, but the quality and depth of a few last minute inclusions ultimately pushed it off. The other game I wanted to include, but was disqualified because I haven't finished it yet, is the downloadable PSP game Corpse Party. The game is a 2D Japanese horror game set in an abandoned elementary school and is a really unique experience. Though I'm really far in I did have to exclude it.
Ok, with all of that said, here are my top ten games of 2011. (No Spoilers!)
10: Gears of War 3 (360)
I have always been a huge fan of the Gears of War series. While the gameplay of Gears has always been rock solid, it feels even further refined in Gears 3. I was a little disappointed that the campaign played it a little too safe in terms of delivering big spectacles, but the characters and dialogue were much improved and most of the loose ends were tied up nicely. Gears 3 really impressed me with its co-op features particularly with Horde 2.0 and the new Beast mode (which is probably the best Anti-Horde mode I could have imagined). If there is a Gears of War 4, I hope classic Horde will be included too as that is probably my biggest complaint overall.
9: Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy (PSP)
Dissidia 012 isn't exactly a great game, due to an overly simplistic combat system, but it is one of the most addicting games I have ever played. I sunk 120 hours into Dissidia 012 because of how much fun it is to level up and build the entire roster to your play style. When everything clicks, Dissidia produces exciting brawls across the land and sky accentuated by a stellar soundtrack. Due to how many variables there are the game often yields uneven matchups, but a constant stream of rewards (Gil, item drops, Experience, AP, PP, Icons, music, character costumes, and more) mitigates frustration. With plenty of extra features and fan service on top of the four lengthy campaigns, the replay value for Dissidia is insane.
8: Super Mario 3D Land (3DS)
Super Mario 3D Land is easily the best portable Mario game ever made as it successfully captures the spirit of Mario Galaxy in a much simpler to digest format reminiscent of Super Mario Bros. 3. The first 8 worlds are a breeze, but another 8 that follow step up the difficulty level and remix old and new levels in compelling ways. I appreciate the return of the Tanooki Suit because not only does it open up the game for newcomers but it opens up interesting and deadly shortcuts for Mario veterans like myself. The 3D of 3D Land is fantastic as it makes it even easier to navigate 3D space and looks particularly striking as well.
7: Saints Row The Third (360, also on PS3)
Having never played either the first or second Saints Row game, Saints Row the Third was one of my biggest surprises for 2011. Way too many games take themselves too seriously, so it is refreshing that Saints Row decided to abandon realism for absurd humor and most importantly fun. All of the missions and activities are fun and varied and I enjoyed the wide array of awesome, and occasionally impractical, weapons, vehicles and outfits to customize your character and experience. I think what I will most remember about the game was actually the story. The friends who are with you in your quest for total domination, Pierce, Shaundi, Oleg, Kinzie, and more cemented my attachment to the world.
6: The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword (Wii)
Skyward Sword not only offers the best motion controls in any game I've ever played, but they are fully integrated into the traditional Zelda experience. Every time I fought a tough enemy with my sword, I was instantly reminded how amazing an accomplishment the game is. The classic formula was significantly altered this time around due to the removal of "field" gameplay. The now isolated outdoor areas function like dungeons. Though there are a few standouts, the dungeons themselves are weaker overall and I found the new outdoor areas to be more satisfying to explore. The story and presentation is very strong, with more loveable and memorable NPCs than many of the recent Zelda games. Skyward Sword's Link feels very connected to the world and Zelda herself, Link's rival Groose, and the villain Ghirahim, are all standout characters.
5: BlazBlue Continuum Shift II (3DS, also on PSP and as a balance patch on 360 and PS3)
The 3DS version of BlazBlue Continuum Shift II perfectly captures the entire BlazBlue experience on a handheld. Aside from the expected drop in quality with sound and visuals, BBCS2 plays exactly the same and features all of the insane amount of content Continuum Shift had while bringing forth a wealth of changes in terms of balance, improved modes, and new content. It is absolutely amazing to not only have the ultimate modern fighting game on a handheld with minimal sacrifices to presentation, but also to boast significant improvements as well.
4: Batman Arkham City (360, also on PS3 and PC)
Arkham City is the ultimate interactive Batman experience and quite possibly Batman's finest hour. After an incredible beginning, probably the best in any game last year, you are left on a rooftop with Batman staring out on a vast cityscape. While in reality it is small area, the densely packed Arkham City is lovingly constructed. Both combat and traversal are very satisfying, but Arkham City excels because of how the story is integrated into the experience. The main tale better captures the idea of Batman being pushed to his physical and mental limits than in Arkham Asylum and features an even larger cast of villains each brilliantly portrayed. One great idea I hope is adapted into other similar titles is that each side quest is linked to another character from Batman's rouge gallery since it further enriches the universe in a compelling manner.
3: Uncharted 3 Drake's Deception (PS3)
Uncharted 3 was already in my top 3 games of the year because of the awesome Uncharted 3 multiplayer beta. Even in beta, the multiplayer was far more tighter, vertical, and fast paced than what had appeared in Uncharted 2 and the addition of both the buddy system and perks made an already exciting package become more compelling. Of course, the final package offered even more than the brief taste and fully delivered one of the best multiplayer suites available. Despite my love of the multiplayer, I was less pleased by the single player campaign because while Drake's and Sully's relationship was worth exploring, the love triangle in Uncharted 2 resulted in a better narrative. In my first run through the action didn't seem as well paced, though playing through it again on hard mode was a lot more thrilling. The last main piece of significant content, the co-op adventure mode, can be really fun but is nowhere near as polished as the single player. While it doesn't quite top Uncharted 2, Uncharted 3 is still a very fantastic game.
2: Catherine (PS3, also on 360)
I knew Catherine would be unique from the first trailer and I am so glad I took a chance on it. The combination of fantastic puzzle gameplay and the unique story and themes created an experience I couldn't put down until I had reached the conclusion. Catherine is fairly difficult, but I really enjoyed discovering the best strategies and solutions to master the game and get the gold medals. The main story is interesting and fun on its own, with plenty of twists and turns, and the characters are each fun to learn about and interact with. Over the course of the game I really began to care for the main character, Vincent Brooks, and found his struggles relatable. While the story and gameplay is worth the price of admission alone, a neat co-operative mode gives the game extra replay value.
1: The Legend of Heroes Trails in the Sky (PSP)
My absolute favorite game for 2011 is without a doubt The Legend of Heroes Trails in the Sky. With a brilliant story and cast of characters, a stellar combat system, and near perfect pacing Trails in the Sky is a game I completely fell in love with. Trails in the Sky is a game that moves at a very careful pace early on to provide substantial payoffs later. There are mountains of text within the game, but every sentence is effectively used to characterize every major character down to the very last obscure NPC. The cast is huge and varied, but at the same time it never distracts from building and evolving the central relationship between the main characters Estelle and Joshua. The gameplay of Trails in the Sky is perfectly suited for a handheld as there plenty of small quests that each tell their own detailed story in addition to a compelling main quest. The combat in the game could best be described as a mix between Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy X, and Final Fantasy Tactics. It is fairly straightforward and fast paced but proves to have plenty of depth during the tougher boss fights when managing all of the subsystems in combat becomes crucial to victory. Since the story is the true highlight of the game, it is fantastic that there is an option to lower the difficulty of fights that you die in to continue progressing. Trails in the Sky is a lengthy adventure, though because of how well it is paced the fifty hours or so quickly fly by. Trails in the Sky is in the upper echelon of JRPGs that achieve a more or less perfect mix of story, gameplay, and pacing. The Legend of Heroes Trails in the Sky is my 2011 game of the year.
That is the end of my list and I'd love to hear what you think and how I did. What games stood out to you 2011? What are you most excited for in 2012?