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Game of the Year 2013: Barrel's Picks


On the internet, I keep hearing how great 2013 was for games and there are certainly a lot of reasons to back that up: The 3DS made a firm presence after quite a few disconcerting years, a new generation of consoles were launched, AAA titles sent off the last-gen of consoles in a respectful fashion, and plenty of indies made quite an impression.


That said, I'll be honest and say I couldn't come up with 10 games, so it'll just be 9 games in numerical order. Not to dismiss the quality of the many great games this year, or the many good games I've played, but I also don't want to shoe-in games that didn't resonate with me enough to be worthy of a personal GOTY mention in my eyes. Whether or not my taste in games is horrible, I'll leave that entirely up to you.




9. Saints Row IV


Saints Row IV is dumb. But, it's the smartly made kind of dumb. With a reliance on sharper writing, more clever references (especially for movie and video game fans), and an overall step up in terms carefree open-world fun it helps finally solidifies its own identity while borrowing a lot of the best aspects from games like Infamous and Prototype, and I love it for that. It does have some rough patches in terms of design, which I feel were a product of its very apparent unsteady development history, but I still had a lot of dumb fun with this game and I hope to see a Saints Row 5 one day, even after THQ's demise.





8. Ys: Memories of Celceta


I'd hate to write something on this so soon after writing the review, because it feels very redundant, regardless of how unlikely people read the actual review. I mean, I don't even read my reviews so how can I expect other people to? (Editor's note: This is so not true) But in concise and comprehensible terms I'll say a few words: "Yo dawg, Ys Celceta iz da bee's kneez 'cause dat combat is hawt! Naught az hawt az Seven or Felghana, but eye'd steel take Falcom and XSEED to dinnerz fore bringing Celceta two da 2013 gaming dance floorz, just az quickly az I'd ask Karna for her digitz if she were realz! YO!!".


Note: That excerpt was not reflective of Game Podunk's site management, overall writing quality (not that barrel's writing should ever reflect that), or my opinion. And please do not tell any potential romantic interests I'm affiliated with that I feigned legitimate interest in a video game character as a potential "waifu"... if I knew what that meant, which I don't. (Editor's note: Mhm, sure...)





7. Rune Factory 4


Unlike most people, I don't actually play Rune Factory for digital "waifus", but if I were to pick one I'd say Clorica is the best, but Leon is the best "husbando", and it's a crime that Volkanon isn't romance-able by both genders. But seriously, Rune Factory 4 is a very charming game that is also deviously addictive. It also borrows some things from one of favorite games from last year, Atelier Meruru, that helps make the structure even more engaging. If I were to break the game down mechanically, it probably wouldn't be on this list normally, but the great localization really fleshes out a cast of characters that SHOULD be one-dimensional archetypes (like most RF/HM). That, in addition to it being a noticeable improvement over previous games, made it earn its place on my list.





6. Rayman Legends


The original Rayman Origins basically proved to me in 2011 that you can have purity in a platformer that isn't way too easy or try to be fiendishly difficult, just for the sake of it. It also doesn't try so hard to wrangle nostalgia like I feel like so many Nintendo properties do, and brought its own fresh spin to the genre. That said, Rayman Legends does try a little to create nostalgia for a game that isn't old enough to earn it, but thankfully, outside of the optional recycled Origins levels it manages to noticeably expand upon the original with a better and more varied experience, which is no small feat. And seriously, those music levels are ridiculous.





5. Metal Gear Solid Rising: Revengeance


I don't like Raiden at all, so... why do I enjoy the game so much? Oh, right. Platinum games. Even as a Metal Gear fan, I can take or leave the campy storytelling in Rising, but man, man do I love the ridiculously frenetic and technical action gameplay. Well, most of the gameplay, except the final boss, because that fight is cheap as heck and [insert string of profanities not appropriate for GP] that guy. Even if it doesn't beat Bayonetta as my favorite action game of last gen, that didn't stop this game from coming rather close to it as well as easily outclassing two other action games I've played this year (DmC and NG3:RE).





4. Fire Emblem: Awakening


I've always been huge fan turn-based strategy-RPGs, but personally, I've never considered Fire Emblem to be particularly high on my list due to what I defined to because of its simple and limited overall mechanics. Awakening reinvigorates the series in my eyes with much deeper and versatile strategy-RPG systems that thoughtfully weave together with the relationships between characters, while also dramatically changing my perspective of the series as a whole. It serves as an excellent strategy-RPG, with a great localization, funny writing, and it also has plenty of heart despite it falling heavily on some of its narrative tropes. I'm actually surprised that this game didn't take my GOTY, considering the huge SRPG fan that I am, but I suppose you can't always predict what a year will bring, even at the tail-end of it.


Also, Cherche is the best character in the game by far *drops the mic*.





3. Tearaway


*dusts off and picks up the mic again* Tearaway is easily one of the best examples of unbridled creativity I've seen in the gaming space. It brilliantly executes its setting and aesthetic (seriously, I can't stress how amazing the origami presentation looks in motion on the gorgeous OLED screen), while also very seamlessly utilizing every feature on the Vita (even the back-touch) in natural and cohesive way, while constantly changing things up despite its straightforward structure. It rewards creativity (something I never thought I had), while doing so many little things to personalize your experience in an extremely pleasant adventure that doesn't overstay its welcome. I can only hope to deliver Tearaway's message to more people and encourage them to check out this criminally overlooked Vita title.


And seriously, dat end portion of the game. Soooo good.





2. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds


I could not tell you how much I“ve fallen off this series after being so bitterly disappointed by Twilight Princess and several other games that followed. Still, I thought in the back of my mind that, maybe, just maybe, it“ll win me back. What I didn't expect was for it to be this game, since I honestly don't have much lasting nostalgia to A Link to the Past, regardless of how great it was for the time, and I thought Nintendo was going to yet again rest on their laurels, but in a much more obvious way with this game.


What A Link Between Worlds did, however, is not just prove me wrong, but they also made a game that is fantastic on its own merits. It takes a hard-look at the criticism the series has (deservedly) received, by giving you far more freedom with its incredibly clever design and removes most of its mind-numbingly spoon-fed, very excessively drawn-out, recent structure, and is a very strong return to form that makes me optimistic for the series later on. It is a game so good I don't hesitate to say I find myself preferring it over the original A Link to the Past, heck, right now it is wrestling with my favorite Zelda of all-time and that's no small feat. Honestly, without the over-reliance on the A Link to the Past coat of paint - and had it been completely fresh - it probably could've been my GOTY but, alas...





1. The Guided Fate Paradox


There are probably a ton of reasons why this game doesn't deserve my GOTY, since it is neither as endearingly creative as Tearaway nor as nearly flawlessly designed as A Link Between Worlds. I also shouldn't like it because it is a Nippon-Ichi RPG (a company that I think overplays a lot of their "over-the-top" gimmicks and level-grinding obsession) and it is a roguelike in a year where Rogue Legacy makes one dominant example, and a Strategy-RPG where Fire Emblem: Awakening does the same.


Still, the reality is that I found this game more enjoyable than any of those games and it really caught me by surprise by its immensely fun SRPG/roguelike hybrid, deep mechanics, and varied gameplay scenarios. It's also the only game I've played this year that I continue to chip away at and it has a current hour count that I will not list for... reasons. That said, I still can't comprehend why this game isn't on a handheld (like the Vita it was originally intended to be). I mean, all of the best games are supposed to be there after all - it make no sense at all, NIS! Get with the program!


Purely as an RPG fan, 2013 didn't hit me nearly as hard as last year, primarily due to many sequels I found to be disappointing compared to previous installments: like Atelier Ayesha, Tales of Xillia, Pokemon X/Y, and especially Shin Megami Tensei IV. Even though I've played the easy 2013 checklist titles like Gone Home, The Last of Us, GTA5, and Bioshock: Infinite, each lacked a certain something to click with me enough on a emotional level, or just simply in mechanical video game fun, even if I respect many things they tried to do and enjoyed each of them to a certain extent.


As a whole, however, 2013 was a far healthier year for gaming in terms of variety. It may have not been my year, as an unapologetic RPG fan who expected possibly too much, but 2013 was certainly a great year for gaming.

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