2013 RPG of the Year Awards

by Kimberley Wallace on Jan 16, 2014 at 09:09 AM

2013 wasn't exactly a blockbuster year for role-playing games, but that doesn't mean it was dull. The year had long-established series keeping beat (Pokémon X & Y), classic franchises returning (Ys, Fire Emblem, Shin Megami Tensei), and completely new games debuting (Ni No Kuni, Dragon's Crown). While console RPGs might not be coming in droves like they used to, handhelds have more than picked up the slack. So what ended up being the best in a year that had small victories? Read on to find out.

Best Narrative: Shin Megami Tensei IV

Shin Megami Tensei's core games aren't known for their story elements, but rather their punishing difficulty. However, Shin Megami Tensei IV had significant story depth regarding two characters with opposing and compelling views trying to lure you their cause. Do you wish for a lawful world that promotes peace, or another where the strong dominate? SMT IV asks these questions then lets you see the outcome of the paths you've chosen; some decisions have downright twisted consequences. With plenty of shades of gray and interesting questions regarding religion, hierarchy, and humanity, SMT IV made players think in a way few games do. 

Best Combat System: Tales of Xillia

The combat in Tales just keeps getting better. Tales of Xillia improves on an already-solid quick action battle system by adding the link system, where you pair two characters together to flank opponents. A linked character will aid you and provide special bonuses and combo attacks. Finding the best characters to pair up depends on the situation; a character with magic guard helps against enemies with powerful spells. Xillia kept battles frantic, fast-paced, strategic, and fun, keeping up its reputation as the RPG battle system to top.

Best Setting: Ni No Kuni: Wrath of The White Witch

Ni No Kuni took us to a world straight out of our childhood imagination. The vibrant, fantastical world that Oliver visits is beyond stunning, thanks primarily to famed Studio Ghibli visuals oozing with whimsy. This is a world without boundaries, where cats rule kingdoms, trees talk, and each area, like the Fairygrounds and Ivory Tower, teems with creativity. Ni No Kuni brought us all back to the days where our imaginations went wild and we believed places like this truly existed. Not many games locales can take you back to your childhood self.

Best Tactical RPG: Fire Emblem: Awakening

Fire Emblem came back this year and proved why Intelligent Systems is still one of the best studios at creating tactical RPGs. Whether you were fighting to keep all your combatants alive, facing off against the tension of permadeath, or finding the best characters to pair together for brutal attacks (or marriage), Fire Emblem: Awakening made you think about every move carefully. With maps constantly upping the stakes with more combatants and unforeseen exploits, players were constantly on their toes and adapting, showing grid-based strategy gameplay is keeping up with the times.

Click the next page to find out which RPGs we thought had the best cast and most innovative online along with the best remake and non-combat system...

Best Cast: Tales of Xillia

Part of the fun of Xillia is seeing the cast grow together and bring out the best in one another. Jude starts out insecure and unable to take charge, but Milla and Alvin help him gain confidence. Milla is cold-hearted at first, but learns compassion from Jude. Teepo acts as Elize's security blanket, until she gains courage. The way all the characters learn from another and become friends along the way feels authentic thanks to good pacing. Skits unlock some of the funnier bonding moments. Let's just say we're glad Tales doesn't always take itself too seriously.

Best Non-Combat System: Fire Emblem: Awakening's Relationship System

Support conversations, where combatants who fight near one another on the field get to know each other better, is one of Awakening's best features. The moments between characters range from serious to funny, but they were always something to look forward to after a battle. Awakening took it one step further by letting you play matchmaker. Essentially, if you got a rank high enough by unlocking and engaging in support conversations, characters would marry. Better yet, based on who you paired together, you would eventually have their child in your squad. It may sound silly, but it kept things creative and interesting.

Best Remake: Ys: Memories of Celceta

Memories of Celceta is a re-imaging of Ys IV, shining a spotlight back on the series. Memories of Celceta brought the best of both worlds, harkening back to classic RPGs while still updating its systems enough to appeal to newcomers. Its fast and fluid combat where killing enemies with specific attacks or skills provides different bonuses, such as restoring SP or increasing the chance for a rare drop, felt fresh. Unlocking the big world map and discovering every inch of it made the game hard to put down with a slew of side quests, side bosses, and hidden treasures abound.

Most Innovative Online: Pokémon X & Pokémon Y

Pokémon X & Y sprinkled online play that enhanced the experience wonderfully. Any time you logged in, you could keep track of players around the world playing at the same time, making trades and battles easier to initiate. You could also use the Global Trade System to request a Pokémon you just can't find, a gotta-catch-em-all player's dream. Throw in the Safari Zone that offered some rare Pokémon breeding, giving you access to unique Pokémon courtesy of your X & Y friends list. And don't even get us started on the risk and thrill of blind trades; sometimes people are more giving than you'd expect.

Read on to discover our best MMORPG, expansion, and which game won the top award...

Best MMORPG: Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

Denying that Final Fantasy XIV's original release was disastrous is impossible, but Square Enix came back with its best effort yet in the MMO space. Building off Final Fantasy's nostalgia and refining elements from XIV's first launch, A Realm Reborn now has a dedicated fanbase willing to pour hours upon hours into its gorgeous world filled with unique landmarks and detailed zones. Classes were rebuilt, and combat is faster; this doesn't feel anything close to the mess of Final Fantasy XIV's initial outing. But A Realm Reborn is hardly just an improvement or apology; it's a solid MMORPG in and of itself, rising above all the other competition this year.

Best Expansion: Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen

If an expansion is going to succeed, it must lure in new players while giving veterans a reason to return. Dark Arisen fits that bill marvelously. Capcom didn't simply provide new content for the expansion, but also fixed barriers that caused frustration for players, like improving the fast travel system and in-game menu navigation. Bitterblack Isle, a new zone, also enticed players with new enemies to boot and a difficulty that only veterans could overcome. This is an expansion done right.

Best Replayability: Dragon's Crown

Not only does Dragon's Crown provide six different heroes with distinct fighting styles to max out, but Atlus and Vanillaware kept adding new content to the game after release. Cross-platform play became available, and the level cap has been raised from 99 to 255. If that's not enough to keep dedicated fans coming back to prove they can handle the challenge, an ultimate difficulty and new dungeon has also been added. Food for thought: Dragon's Crown came out in July; Atlus just added the new dungeon and difficulty level this past December. That's impressive.

RPG of The Year: Pokémon X & Y

Nearing two decades of steady releases, gamers still can't put Pokémon down. To sustain such quality and enthusiasm for a franchise is exciting in its own right, but Game Freak continues to lure gamers in for hours on end. While Pokémon X & Y may not take any bold steps for the franchise, the spark remains. Pokémon X & Y feature cool online capabilities, abandons 2D sprites for 3D landscapes and models, and let us put on skates to trek through it all. Evolving Pokémon to new forms and finding them across the land is still fun as ever. Thinking of all the players who played and are still locked into the game, it's hard to deny its power and appeal, earning it our RPG of the Year award.