2012 was an odd year for gaming. It lacked the excitement of 2011 as next gen consoles loomed in the distance and many of the most promising games were pushed back to 2013. Additionally, many of the AAA games that people were excited for such as Mass Effect 3, Assassin's Creed III and Resident Evil 6 proved extremely divisive. Despite the sense of doom and gloom on these fronts, 2012 was still a good year for gaming as many other games both big and small confidently filled in the gaps left by the AAA market.

I had a lot of fun assembling my top 10 favorite games list last year so I knew I wanted to do it again for 2012. Now that we are quite a few days into the new year, I'm ready to present my list. The central rule I kept in mind when assembling my list is simple: these are my favorite games of 2012 so they are not necessarily the best games of 2012, but rather these are the games that resonated with me the most. All ten games on this list had to have come out in 2012 (i.e. no HD remakes) and I had to have finished the game for it to be eligible. Some awesome games were eliminated because of these rules, such as Persona 4 Golden, Virtue's Last Reward and Far Cry 3, but I want my list to focus on what made 2012 special and I don't want to talk about a game I haven't fully formed my opinions on.

Here is the list of my top 10 favorite games of 2012. I hope you enjoy it. (Spoiler Free!)

10: New Super Mario Bros. U (Wii U)

Many stages and ideas in Mario's latest game feel directly inspired by New Super Mario Bros. Wii, but that doesn't make Mario U any less fun. Even though New Super Mario Bros. Wii still stands as my favorite 2D Mario game, Mario U's sharper level design, the new Squirrel Suit and the new challenge mode keep Mario U feeling fresh throughout. While the main adventure was great, the fantastic levels that open up after the credits secured Mario U on my list.

9: Kid Icarus Uprising (3DS)

I knew Kid Icarus Uprising would be awesome considering Masahiro Sakurai (the man behind both Kirby and Smash Bros) was developing it, but I was still consistently blown away by the final game. While the Sin and Punishment-like air battles are certainly the highlight of the gameplay, delivering both fun and spectacle equally, I found the ground combat to be satisfying as well largely due to the unpredictable environments and events that led up to the entertaining boss battles. The story might throw too many dramatic curveballs your way, but I appreciated that it remained surprising all the way to the end. My absolute favorite part of the game was the seemingly never-ending stream of dialogue that accompanies the experience. Both Pit and Palutena have great chemistry with each other and many of the supporting characters contribute to the fun. 

8: Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance (3DS)

Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance is the culmination of all ten years of Kingdom Hearts. It may not be called Kingdom Hearts III, but KH3D might as well be from both a story and gameplay perspective. After six years of waiting, Sora and Riku's story continues thanks to the conflicts established in Birth By Sleep. On my journey through, I really enjoyed reencountering the cast of my favorite DS game The World Ends With You and exploring new Disney worlds(Fantasia is especially cool). Though the story ultimately takes an absurdly ridiculous turn in one crucial scene, I feel satisfied that both significant events happened and more are yet to come. Balancing out the story is the significant new gameplay addition dubbed Flowmotion that provides a surge of excitement to platforming and combat. Using Flowmotion to bounce off walls and rip through hordes of enemies never gets old, and I can't wait to see how it will evolve going forward.

7: Max Payne 3 (PS3, also on 360)

I'm so glad one of my best friends gave me Max Payne 3 as a birthday gift because I almost missed out on one of the best games of the year. Prior to Max Payne 3 my only real experience with the franchise was the so bad its good movie. Thankfully Max Payne 3 can stand alone as the opening scenes tell you all you need to know about Max’s past and present. As he struggles with coping over the many losses in his life, including his wife and daughter, Max drowns himself in pills and alcohol. I really enjoyed Max’s character right from the beginning and seeing him overcome all of the tragedies in his life was very compelling. The fantastic, brilliantly portrayed story is the best reason to play Max Payne 3, but the third person shooter gameplay and the set piece moments are really fun too.

6: Resident Evil Revelations (3DS)

While I enjoyed Resident Evil 6 (especially when playing co-op with my brother), the best Resident Evil game of last year was undoubtedly Resident Evil Revelations. The 3DS game is a carefully executed compromise between the series' classic survival horror origins and its modern incarnations as a playable action movie. The Queen Zenobia, the cruise ship which serves as the main location of the game, is the series’ most realized setting since the original mansion in the first game. The haunting ship is brought to life through both inspired art direction and the game’s sheer graphical prowess. Revelations seriously looks like a 360 game and the 3D effect makes the setting and characters look even more exceptional.  The incredible setting of the game supports the fun serialized story complete with recaps and cool cliffhangers beginning and ending every chapter. While the setting and story recall the strengths of the earlier Resident Evil games, the controls (aided by the Circle Pad Pro) are up to modern standards. The combat in Revelations is a lot of fun which is really evident in the quick action-packed levels of Raid Mode. 

5: Asura's Wrath (PS3, also on 360)

Asura's Wrath is insane. The moment you press start you immediately become part of one of the most epic space battles ever conceived which culminates with you punching a planet in the face. If you thought that was a spoiler don't worry because that incredible, unforgettable moment is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the outrageous spectacles Asura's Wrath delivers. Yet, what isn't readily apparent when hearing about the best/most insane moments of the game is that the story that drives the game forward is actually really good. Asura has good reasons to be driven by fury and his story, along with the story of another character in the game, give the game its substance. I also really enjoyed the DLC epilogue to the game which somehow manages to top the already cosmic scale of the main game.

4: BlazBlue Continuum Shift Extend (Vita and 360, also on PS3)

I debated whether or not to include BlazBlue Continuum Shift Extend on my list considering Extend is the second update to the second BlazBlue game. Yet when I considered how incredibly entertaining Extend is, I knew it would be a mistake to not include it. The Vita version in particular that I downloaded is incredibly special thanks to sharp controls and a stunning display that looks arguably even better than the home console version. While the significant balance changes were the real draw for me, the new character Relius Clover was a great addition to the roster. I also enjoyed the four brand new story sections especially since there was finally one for my favorite character Makoto. Aside from some frustration with replacement voice actors for some characters, Extend delivered an even richer BlazBlue experience that has made the long wait for the true sequel BlazBlue Chrono Phantasma less painful.

3: Tales of Graces F (PS3)

I played Tales of Graces F across my entire Spring Break. Every night that week I had about five to six hours that I could devote to it and what really struck me about Graces was that I was just as engaged when I picked it up as when I put it down. As with other Tales games the characters, rather than the overarching plot, drive the game forward. Asbel, Sophie, Cheria, Hubert and the rest were a really fun group to journey with, which was readily apparent in the excellent skits of the game. The format of the story lends itself well to character development because the opening hours focus on the main cast’s childhood before progressing to adulthood. In addition to the strong cast, the battle system in Graces is easily the best of the series. The new battle system is really fast-paced, actually requires skill to play well, and constantly evolves by introducing new mechanics throughout the entirety of the game which means it is always getting better and better. Graces really lets you dictate character growth by linking the ability to learn skills to titles you acquire for your characters. Considering each character has over a hundred titles that can be leveled up multiple times, you are always making a ton of decisions that let you make the game your own. 

2: Persona 4 Arena (360, also on PS3)

The ultimate dream team of Arc System Works and the Persona team delivered the best fighting game this year with Persona 4 Arena. Even though it seems unlikely that the Persona RPGs would be a good fit for a fighting game, Arc System Works pulls it off effortlessly by successfully capturing the spirit of the series into every facet of the game. The characters behave exactly the way they should both on and off the battlefield and key elements from the RPG, like Personas, All-Out Attacks and status ailments, are thoughtfully integrated into combat as well. The presentation elements of the game including the televised battle royale format for the fights (featuring enthusiastic announcers and commentators), slick menus and awesome soundtrack live up to the high standards of the Persona series. The story mode of the game, which serves as a sequel to Persona 4, is a lot fun because of the strength of the loveable characters. Even though the story is a bit repetitive at times, the game makes huge strides in meaningfully linking Persona 3 and Persona 4 closer together which is awesome. My favorite thing about Persona 4 Arena as a fighting game is that it is just as good as Arc System Work’s other fighting games (BlazBlue and Guilty Gear) even while it is distinctly its own experience.

1: Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii)

Xenoblade was already more than just a game for me before I even played it. When all hope seemed lost that Xenoblade wasn't going to come out in North America, I saw fans were beginning to gather late at night on an IGN message board. The next day history was being made as Operation Rainfall rallied together fans of JRPGs and raised awareness for three games in danger of not coming out (most notably by bumping Xenoblade to the top of the most preordered games list on Amazon for multiple days). When it came time for the letter writing campaign to Nintendo, I sent in a letter and even received a reply which was really exciting. So the journey to release was certainly special, but Xenoblade wouldn't be my favorite game of the year if it didn't deliver.

Xenoblade is every bit of the JRPG revolution I had hoped for it to be. I correctly assumed Xenoblade would be the next evolution of what Final Fantasy XII established as it offers outrageously large environments to explore filled with both monsters and treasures. The core gameplay loop is incredibly satisfying, but it is the dynamic moments in combat you can't predict that make it special such as when a boss monster flies down to crash a battle underway. The rush that comes as you adapt to the ever-changing battlefield allows combat and exploration to remain exciting throughout the game's 80 hour runtime. The unique setting of Xenoblade is one of its biggest strengths. Set on the dead remains of two titans, Xenoblade delivers inspired outdoor environments with an overwhelming sense of scale. The environments begged to be explored not just to find rare monsters and treasures, but also so you can soak in all of the incredible sights. The beauty of the environments is complimented by an amazing soundtrack composed by a dream team of talented composers. The Gaur Plains theme and the boss battle theme You Will Know Our Names are particularly epic standouts in the excellent soundtrack. While it takes a backseat to exploring the world, Xenoblade’s story is entertaining and confidently told. Shulk and his friends begin the game attempting to stop hordes of robots from completely wiping out humanity with the power of an ancient sword, the Monado, but multiple plot twists lead the story in surprising directions. With strong gameplay at its core, backed by fantastic sights and sounds, Xenoblade delivers an unforgettable journey. For all these reasons and more, Xenoblade is my game of the year.

This concludes my list and my first blog of 2013. Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments below, I’m eager to hear what you think.