2012 RPG of the Year Awards

by Joe Juba on Dec 25, 2012 at 08:30 AM

What defines a role-playing game has become ambiguous over the years. Today, RPGs can involve turn-based fantasy elements, sprawling sci-fi worlds, and third-person gunplay.   The lines separating the genre from the rest of gaming may be fuzzier than ever, but that doesn’t mean that the role-playing landscape is of any lesser quality. Catch the highlights with our picks for the standout characters, moments, and mechanics in the RPGs of 2012.

Best Narrative: Mass Effect 3

The story in Mass Effect 3 is the culmination of a war that has been brewing for years. The plot is full of stunning moments, the character arcs reach satisfying conclusions, and the ending…well, opinions vary on that point. Even with a divisive final sequence, the bulk of Mass Effect 3’s narrative tells an emotional and ambitious tale unlike anything else in gaming.

Best Combat System: Final Fantasy XIII-2

Refining the already fantastic combat from Final Fantasy XIII, this direct sequel cuts away the fat, makes the action even faster, and adds a new monster collection component. It is one of the most polished battle systems we’ve ever seen; the only bad thing is that you have to put up with the story sequences between each encounter.

Best Setting: Xenoblade Chronicles 

A compelling world is an important ingredient in any RPG, and Xenoblade Chronicles ensures that players want to know everything about their surroundings. This Wii-exclusive title is set on the immobile bodies of two gargantuan gods, and the vast zones (populated by bizarre and terrifying creatures) leave you eager to explore everything the world has to offer.

 Best Protagonist: Commander Shepard (Mass Effect 3)

Whether your Shepard is male or female, this Alliance officer has earned a place among the most legendary RPG heroes. Standing up to the Reapers, mending old grudges, and saving entire races is just part of Shepard’s resume. The way players direct Shepard’s actions changes the tone and context of many situations, but Shepard never comes out of it looking any less awesome.

Best Villain: Caius (Final Fantasy XIII-2)

Most RPG villains have cartoonishly evil reasons for wanting to destroy existence, but Caius is an exception. Fueled by a surprisingly noble goal, Caius is one of the rare villains that regularly outsmarts the heroes and stays a step ahead. Caius’ machinations regularly subvert your expectations, and that unpredictability is one of his greatest strengths.

Best Sidekick: Pawns (Dragon’s Dogma)

Most sidekicks are useless at worst, and comic relief at best. Dragon’s Dogma breaks the trend by making pawns an invaluable asset in your adventures. They evolve over time to support your playstyle, share wisdom about different creatures and areas, and can even learn new info by venturing into other players’ games. If only all video game companions were this handy.

 Best Boss Fight: The Griffin (Dragon’s Dogma)

See a majestic Griffin flying overhead is wondrous, but that wonder transforms into terror when you have to face one in combat. The build-up to this fight in Dragon’s Dogma is great: First you hunt the Griffin, then you fight it, then you chase it back to Bluemoon tower, then you battle your way through the tower, then you finally get to slay the frightening beast in a satisfying and harrowing confrontation.

Best Moment: The Very Model (Mass Effect 3)

Describing why this sequence is awesome would spoil it completely. Just know that you will never forget when Mordin demonstrates what it means to be the very model of a scientist Salarian.

Best Re-release: Persona 4 Golden

Persona 4 was a great game when it originally released on PlayStation 2, and it remains a great game in its Vita incarnation. With its unconventional characters and thought-provoking story, newcomers have another chance to see why Persona 4 is one of the most inventive RPGs out there. It isn’t exactly the same, though; new scenes and expanded social links give fans a reason to return. 

 Best Replayability: Torchlight II

Sometimes you aren’t ready to put an RPG down once you’ve beaten it. Torchlight II’s post-game experience is perfectly tuned, allowing players to continue blasting through monsters after the credits roll. The ability to buy randomly generated maps after clearing a difficulty is a great refinement, especially with the various modifiers that keep the challenges coming.

Best MMORPG: Guild Wars 2

The standard MMO formula is getting worn, but Guild Wars 2 surprises players with a new approach. It forgoes traditional questing in favor of dynamic events, moves away from cooldown timers by relying on action-oriented combat, and implements a novel vision of PvP and PvE. Add to that the fact that the game is absolutely gorgeous and Guild Wars 2 emerges as the clear winner.

RPG of the Year:  Mass Effect 3

Not only does Mass Effect 3 conclude Shepard’s story, but it also makes improvements on almost every front. The combat is more fun than ever, the cinematic sequences are amazing, and the consequences of your previous choices are seen throughout the entire campaign. All of those factors, along with a fantastic (and continually updated) cooperative multiplayer mode, combine to make Mass Effect 3 the best RPG of the year. Of course, that’s not a surprise considering it also won Game Informer’s Game of the Year award.