Tuesday, January 8, 2013

TOP Game of the Year 2012

A week ago, I realized I needed to name one game the TOP Game of 2012. I'd like to say that I toiled over which one it would be for hours and hours. I'd like all my readers to think that it took me an agonizingly long time of deep reflection and inner debate to come up with one game that would be the poster game for 2012 in my library. I want everyone to think I put a lot more work into this blog than I actually do! The fact is that once I resigned myself to write an article about my favorite game last year, there was only one possible candidate. Then it was only a matter of expressing how this game completely won me over. So without further ado, I present my selection for TOP Game of the Year.

Game of the Year 2012 by T Oliver Prescott on Grooveshark Xenoblade Chronicles is without a doubt the best game I played in 2012. I dedicated nearly 60 hours of my life toward beating it and then against the screaming cries of the rest of my video game library I turned around and started over. I wanted to fight every possible fight, to see every possible sight. I poured another 20-30 hours into the game before I finally had the willpower to put it down and pick up some other, lesser game. I couldn't even tell you what it might have been.

When I was young, a budding gamer if you will allow, I only got a handful of games a year. I got one or two on my birthday and Christmas, and one or two over the summer to keep me out of my mom's hair. In those days, I played games like this quite regularly. I sucked every moment of potential fun-energy out of each and every game I owned. I'm ashamed to admit that like most adult gamers, this is simply not the case anymore. There's too many games I want (and am able) to get my hands on for me to play over and over, scour every corner of every map for every secret treasure. That Xenoblade Chronicles so readily and easily pulled me back into that style of game playing makes it a true gem in my collection.

The first thing I noticed when I started playing Xenoblade Chronicles was it felt similar to Japanese MMO RPG I'd played before, particularly Final Fantasy XI. The more I played it, the more I wished Final Fantasy XII (a single-player RPG based heavily on its predecessor's gameplay) had been more like Xenoblade Chronicles. On the surface, they seem to have a lot in common. You control a single character in an open world environment, fighting enemies in real-time battles. Your party members are running on an AI script that you have a limited control over. This first glance at the game mechanics does make them seem similar, but beyond that first impression they begin to diverge greatly.

The thing I love most about Xenoblade Chronicles is that its depth of gameplay is layered. For example, you can play through the game without worrying too much about which skills you upgrade, which gems you socket to gear, or even which gear you're going to use. Simply optimize your gear based on which stats you want to emphasize on which character and call it a day. There isn't a strict need to toil endlessly over the menus fine-tuning skills and gear to get the most out of your characters. You will get through the meat of the game without many problems. That said, however, you can toil over the menus for hours and hours to fine-tune your characters into gods of battle, each one customized to a flavor of play that you enjoy playing.

You may be wondering why you would do that when I just said you don't need to, but the simple fact is you are rewarded for this effort in the battles themselves. Once you get the hang of the flow of battle, and find a particular character or style you enjoy using, each battle becomes a delight to play. Then it stands to reason, if you like customization and a bit of micromanagement, you can create characters that compliment your own personal style and preferences and the more time you sink into the management, the greater the characters and (assuming you are enjoying your role in battle) fun you will get out of the battle system. There are also numerous monsters in side-quests and roaming off the beaten trails that will challenge you far more than any monster you would face naturally over the course of the game's storyline so they are out there to put your team to the test once you have them tuned the way you want them. This additional layer of depth in customization and battle roles is what really makes this game stand out to me.

Battle is just one example of optional tweaking you can do in the game. There is also a very deep and involving side-quest system with hundreds of quests available to soak up all your free time. They will send you to fight some dangerous foes, or scour the far reaches of the map where you might never find yourself otherwise. Completion not only nets you the standard fiscal rewards, but also allows you to build rapport within each community which will in turn unlock more quests and occasionally ways to improve your characters directly. Doing every quest and mending every broken NPC family in each town will add a significant amount of hours to your experience in Xenoblade Chronicles. It is again a system within the game that you can lose yourself in, or leave completely alone without hindering yourself. You will find that if you enjoy the challenges and trials of the local communities you will not only build stronger characters to take into battle, but stronger relationships to the NPCs living on the surface of Bionis and Mechonis.

O! Did I mention the entire world exists on the bodies of two giant beings frozen in their battle waged thousands of years ago? It is a game world unlike any other I've explored. It also lends to some amazing visuals as you wander through this inspired game world. The environments and their grandeur are where the graphics of this game really shine. The first time I walked out onto Gaur Plains, where the game hopes to impress you with its vast, scenic landscapes and capture your imagination in its clutches, I was breathless. That doesn't happen to me too often in video games, so it should reassure you that even though the graphics aren't going to meet the standards of contemporary blockbusters on Playstation 3 or XBox 360, you aren't going to be disappointed with how the designers chose to convey this world within Wii's graphics.

Official Art: Bionis's shoulder - looking out at Mechonis
I also cannot finish this article without singing the highest praise for the soundtrack. Yoko Shimomura (Super Mario RPG, Kingdom Hearts series, Radiant Historia), Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross, Xenogears, Xeno Saga) and the rest of their assembled team truly outdid themselves for this game. I've selected three of my favorite songs for today's widget to give you a taste of the amazing score. The first is the area music where the game begins. At that time I was still asking myself, "What is all the fuss about? This game is good, but is it that good?" Then I stepped out onto Gaur Plains and was greeted by the second song on this playlist and I was thinking "Wow. This game is pretty damn good." The entire soundtrack is awesome, from its gentle night-time lullabies to its upbeat, rocking battle themes. Xenoblade Chronicles has one of the best soundtracks I've heard in years.

What selecting the best of 2012 all comes down to for me is simply how much time I poured into the game and how I was soaked into every aspect of it from beginning to end (and then some). Even thinking about Xenoblade Chronicles for this article got me itching to load up my second playthrough and continue to pour untold hours into fighting those challenging, optional fights all while beefing up my characters to their max potential - something I didn't do justice in my first attempt. All that stays my hand from doing it is the other games I own that won't get played as my life quietly, softly recedes back into the stunning world of Xenoblade. I'll turn on my Wii this afternoon and when I turn it off it will be March. If you haven't yet, try and get your hands on this game and let me know what you think.


PS: Let me know in the comments if you disagree.
Internet debates over personal opinions is one of my secret hobbies!

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  1. I'm commenting (not because I disagree but) because I think you left out two amazing tracks that deserve to be included!

    Yoko Shimomura - "Enage the Enemy"

    Yoko Shimomura - "Unfinished Battle"

    Love them!

    1. "Unfinished Battle" is also one of my favorites on that soundtrack.